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The American Revolution had surfaced from the adversary between the British and the American colonists in the New World who were fighting desperately for their independence. The French and Indian War contributed greatly to this fight for independence, as the cost of the war was abundant and prompted the British to initiate harsh taxes on the American colonists, such as the Sugar Act. Along with the high costs, what additionally resulted from the French and Indian War was the French having to be forced to renounce all the mainland of North America east of the Mississippi to Great Britain, as stated in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. These circumstances influenced the way France viewed Great Britain, it led the French to develop a strong hatred towards the British. Since their defeat in the French and Indian War, the French had wanted to get back at the British and were willing to do whatever it took to ruin their reputation and punish them. Due to the acrimonious relations between the British and the American Colonies, the French realized that they can have their chance to get back at the British if they help the colonies win their independence; Britain would then earn a poor reputation and lose much of their power.
The French, however, were not so convinced that the American colonies had the stamina to defeat the British, so the French were reluctant to initiate any sort of reliance. This changed when the American colonists won the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 due to the British surrendering to the American forces. From this point forward in the timeline of the American Revolution, the French were piqued in the interest of helping the colonists because they became certain that they had a chance in gaining independence from Britain. The French involvement in the American Revolution emerged as the turning point of the war and ultimately aided the American colonies in winning independence from Great Britain through the implementation of several treaties of alliance and commerce. The desire of the French to be involved in the Revolutionary War came from their hatred of the British and wanting to see them lose power the way they had after their dreadful loss in the French and Indian War. Overall, French motives for their involvement in the American Revolution were primarily focused on the persistent Franco-British rivalry than the justness of the American cause.
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The French’s desire to be involved in the American Revolution was stimulated by several factors; however, the first event to have happened in the Revolution’s timeline that involved the French was their major loss in the French and Indian War. The French and Indian War emerged due to the intense rivalry between the dominant powers of Great Britain and France competing for gaining territory in North America. After much damage was done to both sides, the French and Indian War finally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The terms of the treaty stated that the French were forced to give up all their previously held territories, which included their claims to Canada as well as Louisiana to Spain. In contrast, Britain flourished from the terms of this treaty, as they received an abundant amount of land, including Spanish Florida, Upper Canada, and several French holdings overseas (History.com Editors). Along with the major loss of land, the French developed a new hatred towards the British because they had gained a great expansion of territorial claims.
The French saw this outcome as despicable, and they were furious at the fact that Britain had become more powerful than them. This greatly contributed to the French developing a bad mindset regarding the British and wanting to see them fail; thus, this event enabled the French to consider creating supportive relations with the American colonists during the fight for independence later (Van Tyne). Along with Britain’s extensive land gain, they also faced negative effects from the Treat of Paris, which was the massive war debt they were obliged to pay. This immense debt they were forced to pay contributed to the American Revolution; soon enough, the colonists were in the middle of an intense rivalry with Britain. Struggling with meager amounts of soldiers and weapons, the American colonists looked to France to seek major support and a possible ally. Though France was not much concerned with this conflict going on in the New World, it piqued their interest knowing that they could potentially hurt the British by assisting a new British opponent; thus, this is what stimulated the French to consider taking part in the Revolutionary War.
The French were somewhat interested in being involved in the Revolutionary War, and even the public opinion in France encouraged the idea of stepping into war, however, King Louis XVI and his advisers were hesitant due to the massive costs and risky actions that were involved. Benjamin Franklin was a major figure in helping to persuade the French to support the cause in the New World; he frequently visited France and became wildly popular because he represented the simplicity and morality of the New World and the importance of enlightened power of reason. By having this effect, Franklin was able to earn some approval from the French public, and he opened the door to the French government siding with the American colonists. Initially, due to French involvement not being stated official, their contributions were somewhat meager, as they helped by secretly sending over supplies and financial aid. Additionally, they were not fully convinced that the colonists could win the war, so they did not want to become utterly entangled in the conflict.
France’s status in the Revolutionary War changed considerably, however, as a result of the American colonists’ significant win in the Battle of Saratoga where General Burgoyne and his British troops surrendered to the American forces. This infamous battle is deemed the turning point of the war due to the French coming to the realization that the colonists may have a chance in ultimately winning the war; therefore, the colonists’ win in the battle convinced the French that the Americans were worth backing in a formal treaty. Substantial French involvement in the revolutionary war suddenly emerged following the Battle of Saratoga, as they began to show more support.
A few months after the Battle of Saratoga, several representatives of the American colonies and France met to discuss and establish necessary treaties to declare an official alliance. Benjamin Franklin was a key representative in this process, as he was an appointed minister to France, and his primary goal was to maintain a good relationship with the French government to keep their support in the war against Britain. In 1778, the American colonies and France agreed to sign a Treaty of Amity and Commerce, as well as a Treaty of Alliance. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce stated that trade was encouraged between the French and the American colonists, and it included the fact that France had to formally recognize the colonists as an independent nation. This recognition would earn the fledgling nation more respect throughout the world. Moreover, the Treaty of Alliance stated that the French would provide military assistance and alliance to the colonists against Great Britain (American Battlefield Trust). These Franco-American relations, though not perfect, lasted for many years due to their mutually beneficial relationship.
The French support for the American colonists greatly increased after the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance were enforced; their motives behind allying with the American colonies primarily revolved around the idea that they would soon restore their traditional role in the European balance of power. If Britain were to lose the war, France believed that Britain would no longer be a leading power. Prior to their increased involvement in aiding the colonists, the French had helped in other ways. For instance, General Marquis de Lafayette had been sent from France to serve in commanding the Continental Army during several battles of the Revolutionary War upon being requested by George Washington. Lafayette’s tactful leadership displayed in battle is what saved the Revolution many times. Additionally, France had been helping the American colonists by secretly providing aid in the form of supplies, military armaments, money, and soldiers (Britannica). However, once these treaties were enacted as a result of the colonists’ win at the Battle of Saratoga, the French took a greater step into helping the colonists get closer to independence; they were able to contribute using their French navy and armed forces in attempt to neutralize Britain’s superiority on land and sea. This was evident in the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, when joint Franco-American land and sea forces encircled and trapped a major British army led by General Lord Charles Cornwallis on a peninsula in Yorktown and ultimately forced them to surrender.
This major win by the American colonists could not have been executed without the help from the French forces as well as General Lafayette and another significant French general, General Rochambeau. Similarly to General Lafayette, General Rochambeau was ordered by Louis XVI to help direct portions of the Continental Army that were operating around New York City. However, Rochambeau and George Washington quickly realized that an attack on New York City was unfeasible because they learned that French Admiral Comte De Grasse was directing his warships toward the Chesapeake Bay, so by August 1781, their troops were ordered to march down south to attempt to seize Cornwallis’ British troops at Yorktown. At Yorktown, the British troops were tremendously outnumbered to the American and French soldiers on land, and even more aid from the French came when de Grasse’s fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay which prevented the British from escaping or from receiving seaborne supplies. The extensive force used by the American and French troops caused Cornwallis to surrender. The French had significantly helped the colonists in this endeavor to capture the British at Yorktown, and without their aid, the colonists would not have had this strategic decision planned, and it would have been much harder for them to succeed.
France’s help in the American Revolution is considered a vital and crucial contribution to the American colonists’ victory over Great Britain and their success in earning independence. The French had given much of their support to the American colonists in the form of soldiers and troops, skilled leaders like Lafayette and Rochambeau, money, and military armaments. France’s involvement was primarily based on their interest in getting revenge back at Great Britain because they had failed and lost a great amount of territory from the French and Indian War. Their main motive was not due to them wanting to see the colonists emerge as a free nation, but they were rather supportive of the shame that the British would feel after their defeat in the war. As the colonists were beginning to revolt against Britain, the French saw this as the perfect opportunity to seriously weaken and bring down their long-time adversary.
Indeed, the French did ultimately weaken Britain’s power, and as a result, their own status was reassured by the war’s outcome. This, however, was accompanied by some negative effects as well, primarily how detrimental the war was on France’s finances. France was already struggling with the debts they accumulated from the French and Indian War, and they continued to fall deeper in these costs; participation in the Revolutionary War cost France one billion French livres, or French pounds. This massive debt led to France becoming bankrupt; this soon became one of the reasons as to why the French decided to revolt and initiate their own revolution, as it stimulated great discontentment among the general French populace.
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