Many Americans believe that the American Revolutionary War began on July 4, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, but they are wrong. Most historians place the beginning of the war in April 1775, a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Colonial militia lined up across from the British troops in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.
Nearly three years into the war, many of the colonial troops were struggling for money, food and necessary supplies. There was no doubt that the colonies needed help if they were going to drive the well trained and supplied British forces out of the colonies.
Not long after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress assigned the task of obtaining help to the venerable Benjamin Franklin along with Silas Deane and Arthur Lee. In 1776, the three men were sent on a diplomatic mission to France, a long time enemy of Great Britain.
For the first year of the diplomatic mission, not even Franklin could convince the French to recognize the independence of America nor would they agree to render any support. At the time the French did not believe that the colonies could possibly defeat the British.
It wasn’t until the French heard about the colonial defeat of British General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777. Once word of the colonial victory reached Franklin and the French, attitudes changed. There was no more persuasive politician in all the world at the time than Franklin and with the news of the victory, he used his persuasive ways to get the French agree to help.
On February 6, 1778, Franklin and French leaders signed two treaties that helped turn the tide on the war with the British. The first treaty was the Treaty of Alliance in which the French formally recognized the independence of America. This treaty also established a military alliance against a common enemy, the British, and that there would be no peace until the British stop the fighting and recognize America’s independent. The Treaty of Alliance reads in part:
If War should break out betwan france and Great Britain, during the continuance of the present War betwan the United States and England, his Majesty 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 & faithful Allies.
The essential and direct End of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, Sovereignty, and independance absolute and unlimited of the said united States, as well in Matters of Gouvernement as of commerce.
The two contracting Parties shall each on its own Part, and in the manner it may judge most proper, make all the efforts in its Power, against their common Enemy, in order to attain the end proposed.”
Secondly, they signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce which reads in part:
“The most Christian King, and the thirteen United States of North America, to wit, New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay Rhode island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania Delaware, Maryland, Virginia North-Carolina, South Carolina & Georgia, willing to fix in an equitable and permanent manner the Rules which ought to be followed relative to the Correspondence & Commerce which the two Parties desire to establish between their respective Countries, States, and Subjects, hi most Christian Majesty and the, said United States have judged that the said End could not b, better obtained than by taking for the Basis of their Agreement the most perfect Equality and Reciprocity, and by carefully avoiding all those burthensome Preferences, which are usually Sources of Debate, Embarrasment and Discontent; by leaving also each Party at Liberty to make, respecting Commerce and Navigation, those interior Regulations which it shall find most convenient to itself; and by founding the Advantage of Commerce solely upon reciprocal Utility, and the just Rules of free Intercourse; reserving withal to each Party the Liberty of admitting at its pleasure other Nations to a Participation of the same Advantages. It is in the Spirit of this Intention, and to fulfil these Views, that his said Majesty having named and appointed for his Plenipotentiary Conrad Alexander Gerard, Royal Sindic of the City of Strasbourg, Secretary of his Majesty’s Council of State, and the United States on their Part, having fully impower’d Benjamin Franklin Deputy from the State of Pennsylvania to the general Congress, and President of the Convention of said State, Silas Deane late Deputy from the State of Connecticut to the said Congress, and Arthur Lee Councellor at Law; The said respective Plenipotentiaries after exchanging their Powers, and after mature Deliberation, have concluded and agreed upon the following Articles.”
Basically, this treaty established a trade and commerce agreement between France and the United States, which ended up providing the supplies that the colonies so desperately needed.
A month after signing the treaties, France sent the first ships to the colonies, loaded in supplies. When the British fired upon the French ships, France formally declared war with the British, holding to the alliance designated in the treaties. The French fleets were instrumental in breaking the British blockades at many colonial ports. Once the blockades had been broken, supplies once again began to arrive and with the help of French forces, the British were eventually defeated and America gained their independence.
If it weren’t for the efforts of Franklin, Deane and Lee in getting the French to sign these historic treaties, we may be singing God Save the Queen instead of the Star Spangled Banner.