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The Franco-American Alliance 1778

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why France supported the USA in its revolutionary war against Britain and how that related to the French Revolution a few years later.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give open support to the USA in its revolutionary war against Britain and to promote French trade across the Atlantic. This alliance had profound consequences for all three. The French navy, in particular, played a decisive role in the Americans’ victory in their revolution, but the great cost of supporting this overseas war fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea.

The image above is a detail of Bataille de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, with Rochambeau commanding the French expeditionary force in 1781


Frank Cogliano
Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh

Kathleen Burk
Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London


Michael Rapport
Reader in Modern European History at the University of Glasgow

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

51 minutes

Last on

Thu 22 Apr 2021 21:30



Kathleen Burk at University College London

Frank Cogliano at the University of Edinburgh

Michael Rapport at the University of Glasgow


Carol Berkin, A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism (Basic Books, 2017)

Kathleen Burk, Old World, New World: The Story of Britain and America (Abacus, 2009)

Francis D. Cogliano, Revolutionary America 1763-1815: A Political History (Routledge, 2009)

Stephen Conway, The War of American Independence 1775-1783 (Edward Arnold, 1995)

George C. Daughan, If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy - from the Revolution to the War of 1812 (Basic Books, 2008)

Jonathan R. Dull, A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution (Yale University Press, 1985)

Francois Furstenburg, When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation (Penguin, 2014)

William Hague, William Pitt the Younger (HarperCollins, 2004)

Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence (Harper & Row, 1965)

Orville T. Murphy, Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes: French Diplomacy in the Age of Revolution 1719-1787 (State University of New York Press, 1983)

Joel Richard Paul, Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution (Penguin, 2010)

Mike Rapport, Rebel Cities: Paris, London and New York in the Age of Revolution (Little, Brown, 2017)

Stacy Schiff, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America (Henry Holt, 2006)

Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848 (Clarendon Press, 1996)

Walter Stahr, John Jay: Founding Father (Diversion Books, 2017)

Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford University Press, 2009)


Letter from Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane informing the US Congress about the French Alliance, 8 Feb. 1778 – Founders Online: National Archives

Most Important Diplomatic Action? - Journal of the American Revolution, July 9, 2014

Franco-American Alliance - Wikipedia


  • Thu 22 Apr 2021 09:00
  • Thu 22 Apr 2021 21:30

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