French Assistance to the American Cause U.S. Department of Seal
Department of State
[Photo of Yorktown]

The single most important success of American diplomacy during the War for Independence was the critical link forged with France. The first and only alliance established by America until the 20th century, this partnership was built in good part by the efforts of the French Foreign Minister, Comte de Vergennes, and Benjamin Franklin. Vergennes saw the American War for Independence as a way to restore the balance of power in Europe and to avenge the humiliation suffered at British hands during the Seven Years War (1754-1763). Franklin pointed out the compatibility of French and American interests in denying the British control of North America east of the Mississippi River. After the signing of treaties of alliance and commerce between America and France on February 6, 1778, King Louis XVI opened his considerable coffers in support of the American cause. Between 1778 and 1782 the French provided supplies, arms and ammunition, uniforms, and most importantly, French troops and naval support to the beleaguered Continental Army. In 1781 the 29-vessel strong French fleet of Admiral de Grass protected the daring French-American military gamble against British forces in Virginia. The French Navy transported reinforcements to the southern American army under the Marquis de Lafayette, fought off a British fleet, and protected Generals Washington and Rochambeau's march to Virginia. With an almost evenly divided American-French Army of 16,000, Washington laid seige to 8,000 British forces at Yorktown and forced their surrender on October 19, 1781, for all practical purposes successfully ending the War for American Independence.