October 26, 1776 — Benjamin Franklin departed for France today on a mission to seek French support for the American Revolution.
He served as the American ambassador to France until 1785, and met with many leading diplomats, aristocrats, intellectuals, scientists and financiers. His image and writings caught the French imagination – there were many images of him sold on the market – and he became the cultural icon of the archetypal new American, and even a hero for aspirations for a new order inside France.
Historians explain: “France’s goal was to weaken Britain and to exact revenge for the defeat in the French and Indian War. After the American capture of the British invasion army at Saratoga in 1777, and after the French navy had been built up, France was ready.”
In 1778, France recognized the United States of America as a sovereign nation, signed a military alliance, went to war with Britain, built coalitions with the Netherlands and Spain that kept Britain without a significant ally of its own, provided the Americans with grants, arms and loans, sent a combat army to serve under George Washington, and sent a navy that prevented the second British army from escaping from Yorktown in 1781.
In all, the French spent about 1.3 billion livres (in modern currency, approximately thirteen billion U.S. dollars) to support the Americans directly, not including the money it spent fighting Britain on land and sea outside the United States.
French aid proved vital in the victory of the Americans seeking independence from Britain. The United States gained much territory at the 1783 Treaty of Paris, but France made only limited gains, returning most of its wartime conquests, but it got its revenge by bringing the First British Empire to an end. However the high debt France accumulated was a major cause of the French Revolution in 1789.
Words of Wisdom
No one was more fashionable, more sought after in Paris than Doctor Franklin. The crowd chased after him in parks and public places; hats, canes, and snuffboxes were designed in the Franklin style, and people thought themselves very lucky if they were invited to the same dinner party as this famous man.