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Franco-American relations
France   United States
Map indicating location of France and USA
     France      United States
United States President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy stand at attention during the playing of the French and American national anthems, before NATO summit, in Strasbourg, on April 3rd, 2009.

Franco-American relations refers to the international relations between France and the United States. Its groundwork was laid by the colonization of parts of the Americas by the European powers France and Great Britain.


Country comparison

 France  United States
Population 65,073,140 307,721,000
Area 674,843 km² (260,558 sq mi) 9,826,630 km² (3,794,066 sq mi )
Population Density 114/km² (295 /sq mi) 31/km² (80/sq mi)
Capital Paris Washington, D.C.
Largest City Paris - 2,203,817 (12,067,000 Metro) New York City - 8,363,710 (19,006,798 Metro)
Government Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic Federal presidential constitutional republic
Official languages French English (de facto)
Main Religions 54% Christianity (51% Roman Catholicism), 31% non-religious,
4% Islam, 1.2% Buddhism, 1% Judaism,
75% Christianity, 20% non-Religious, 2% Judaism, 1% Buddhism, 1% Islam
GDP (nominal) $2.867 trillion ($46,037 per capita) $14.441 trillion ($47,440 per capita)
Military expenditures $68.5 billion (FY 2008-09) [1] $663.7 billion (FY 2010) [2]

France and the American Revolution

As long as England and France remained at peace in Europe, and as long as the precarious balance in the American interior survived, English and French colonies coexisted without serious difficulty. However, beginning in earnest following the Glorious Revolution in England (1688), the simmering dynastic, religious, and factional rivalries between the Protestant British and Catholic French in both Europe and the Americas triggered four "French and Indian Wars" fought largely on American soil (King William's War, 1689–1697; Queen Anne's War, 1702–1713; King George's War, 1744–1748; and, finally the Seven Years' War, 1756–1763). Great Britain finally removed the French from continental North America in 1763 following French defeat in the Seven Years War. Within a decade, the British colonies were in open revolt, and France retaliated by secretly supplying the independence movement with men and materiel.

After Congress declared independence in July 1776 its agents in Paris recruited officers for the Continental Army, notably the Marquis de Lafayette, who served with distinction as a major general. Despite a lingering distrust of France, the agents also requested an alliance. After readying their fleet and being impressed by the U.S. victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, the French on February 6, 1778, concluded treaties of commerce and alliance that bound them to fight Britain until independence of the United States was assured[3].

The military alliance began poorly. French Admiral d'Estaing sailed to North America with a fleet in 1778, and began a joint effort with American General John Sullivan to capture a British outpost at Newport, Rhode Island. D'Estaing broke off the operation to confront a British fleet, and then, despite pleas from Sullivan and Lafayette, sailed away to Boston for repairs. Without naval support, the plan collapsed, and American forces under Sullivan had to conduct a fighting retreat alone. American outrage was widespread, and several French sailors were killed in anti-French riots. D'Estaing's actions in a disastrous siege at Savannah, Georgia further undermined Franco-American relations.

The alliance improved with the arrival in the United States in 1780 of the Comte de Rochambeau, who maintained a good working relationship with General Washington. French naval actions at the Battle of the Chesapeake made possible the crucial Franco-American victory at the siege of Yorktown in October 1781, effectively ending the war.

In the peace negotiations between the Americans and the British in Paris in 1783 the American commissioners, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and particularly John Jay, suspected the French of a willingness to sacrifice the American interest in the Western territory extending to the Mississippi River and of being hostile to American fishing rights off Newfoundland. Thus, with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, Jay violated the spirit of the alliance by directly bargaining with the British. Nevertheless, the allies cooperated to produce a treaty.

The French Revolution and neutrality

Six years later, the French Revolution toppled the Bourbon regime. At first, the United States was quite sympathetic to the new situation in France, where an ineffective, authoritarian and undemocratic absolute monarchy was replaced by a constitutional monarchy. However, in the matter of a few years, the situation in France turned sour, as foreign powers tried to invade France and King Louis XVI was accused of high treason. The French revolutionary government then became increasingly authoritarian and brutal, which dissipated some of the U.S. warmth for France.

A crisis emerged in 1793 when France found itself at war again with Great Britain and its allies, this time after the French revolutionary government had executed the king. The new federal government in the U.S. was uncertain how to respond. Should the United States recognize the radical government of France by accepting a diplomatic representative from it? Was the United States obliged by the alliance of 1778 to go to war on the side of France? The treaty had been called "military and economic," and as the United States had not finished paying off the French loan, would the military alliance be ignored as well?

Washington (responding to advice from both Hamilton and Jefferson) recognized the French government, but did not support France in the war with Britain, as expressed in his 1793 Proclamation of Neutrality. The proclamation was issued and declared without Congressional approval. Congress instead acquiesced, and a year later passed a neutrality act forbidding U.S. citizens to participate in the war and prohibiting the use of U.S. soil as a base of operation for either side. Thus, the revolutionary government viewed Washington's policy as partial to the enemy.

The first challenge to U.S. neutrality came from France, when its first diplomatic representative, the brash Edmond-Charles Genêt, toured the United States to organize U.S. expeditions against Spain and Britain. Exasperated, Washington demanded Genêt's recall, but by then the French Revolution had taken yet another turn and the new French ministers arrived to arrest Genêt. Washington refused to extradite Genêt (knowing he would otherwise be guillotined). Genêt became a U.S. citizen and married Cornelia Tappan Clinton, daughter of New York governor George Clinton.

France regarded Jay's Treaty (November 1794) between Britain and the United States as hostile. The British agreed to withdraw troops from the Northwest Territory in return for a renewed commitment by the United States that debts incurred before the American Revolution would be paid.

To overcome this resentment John Adams sent a special mission to Paris in 1797 to meet the French foreign minister Talleyrand. The American delegation was shocked, however, when it was demanded that they pay monetary bribes in order to meet and secure a deal with the French government. Adams exposed the episode, known as the "XYZ Affair," which angered Americans. It should be noted, however, that this system of bribery was common all over Europe, not just France, and continued well into the 19th and 20th centuries.[citation needed]

Tensions with France increased to the point that the period is described as an undeclared war. Two years of hostilities at sea, or the "Quasi-War", followed. The Federalists imposed severe restrictions on French sympathizers in the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts. It ended in September 1800 with the Treaty of Morfontaine, which ended the "entangling" French alliance with the United States. In truth, this alliance had only been viable between 1778 and 1783.

At the same time, Napoleon Bonaparte regained the Louisiana territory from Spain, leading Thomas Jefferson to consider war to prevent French control of the Mississippi River.

At first, though, Jefferson sent Secretary of State James Monroe to France to buy as much of the land around New Orleans as he could. Surprisingly, Napoleon agreed to sell the entire territory. Because of an insuppressible slave rebellion in St. Domingue, modern day Haiti, among other reasons, Bonaparte's North American plans collapsed. To keep Louisiana out of British hands in an approaching war he sold it in April 1803 to the United States for $15 million. The size of the United States was doubled without going to war.

A foreign crisis loomed as warring Britain and France challenged U.S. neutrality and desire to trade with both nations. In their warfare, the French infringed on U.S. maritime rights, but less than did the British. President Thomas Jefferson signed the Embargo Act, which forbid all exports and imports. Designed to hurt the British, it hurt U.S. commerce far more. The destructive Embargo Act, which had brought U.S. trade to a standstill, was rescinded in 1809, although both Britain and France remained hostile to the United States.

However, in 1812 the United States declared war on Britain and fought indirectly in the War of 1812 as an ally of France.

France and Spain had not defined a boundary between Louisiana and neighboring territory retained by Spain, leaving this problem for the U.S. and Spain to sort out. The U.S. inherited weak French claims to Texas, then in the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty traded these (and a little of the Mississippi drainage itself) away in return for U.S. possession of Florida, where American settlers and the U.S. Army were already encroaching, and acquisition of Spain's weak claims to the Pacific Northwest. Of course, before three more decades had passed, the U.S. had taken Texas as well.

Franco-U.S. relations, 1834–1906

In 1834 when Andrew Jackson demanded payment for property destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars, France severed diplomatic relations. After the incident subsided, modest cultural exchanges resumed, as in visits to the United States by Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America (1835).

In the 1840s Britain and France considered sponsoring continued independence of the Republic of Texas and blocking U.S. moves to obtain California. Balance of power considerations made Britain want to keep the western territories out of U.S. hands to limit U.S. power; in the end, France opposed such intervention in order to limit British power, the same reason for which France had sold Louisiana to the U.S. and earlier supported the American Revolution.[4] Thus the great majority of the territorial growth of the continental U.S. was accomplished with French support.

During the American Civil War, the U.S. believed that Napoleon III favored the seceding Southern states– in the Confederacy, there was also a belief that the United Kingdom and France would come to the Confederacy's aid. Nevertheless, both countries stayed neutral with respect to what they considered a war internal to the U.S.

Furthermore, Napoleon III took advantage of the war in 1863, when he installed Austrian archduke Maximilian of Habsburg on the throne in Mexico. The United States protested and refused to recognize the new government but did not use the Monroe Doctrine out of fear that France would aid the South. U.S. celebration of the anniversary of the Mexican victory over the French on Cinco de Mayo, 1862 started the following year and has continued up to the present. In 1865 the U.S. used increasing diplomatic pressure to persuade Napoleon III to end French support of Maximilian and to withdraw French troops from Mexico. The defeat of Napoleon III in 1870 after declaring war against Prussia helped improve Franco-American relations.

In subsequent years the balance of power in the relationship shifted in favor of the United States. The U.S., rising to the status as a great power, came to overshadow France. All during this period the relationship remained firm—as symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, presented in 1884 as a gift to the United States from the French people. From 1870 until 1918, France was the only major republic in Europe, which endeared it to the United States. Many French people had the United States in high esteem, as a land of opportunity and as a source of modern ideas– a trend which lasted well into the 1950s until the mention of a "friendly colonisation of France" by the Eisenhower administration in 1956 (though few French people emigrated to the U.S.).

In 1906, when the German Empire challenged French influence in Morocco (see Tangier Crisis and Agadir Crisis), U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt sided with the French.

The Great War and the peace settlement

A French war bond poster, December 1917. Translation: For worldwide liberty, purchase a subscription to the National Credit Bank's national issue.

During the First World War, the United States [eventually, in 1917] joined France as a cobelligerent and provided much-needed reinforcements to the beleaguered country. Most of the American soldiers who joined the war came from recent immigrant descent to defend the land of their parents, and among the troops who were born on U.S. soil, a New York history teacher made a quote that later became famous: "Lafayette, here we come !".

In the peacemaking, however, though sharing major objectives, the two countries clashed over particulars. The burning ambition of French Premier Georges Clemenceau was to ensure the security of France in the future; his formula was restitution, reparations, and guarantees. Clemenceau had little confidence in what, to him, were the unrealistic and utopian principles of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, observing, "Even God was satisfied with Ten Commandments, but Wilson insists on fourteen", a reference to Wilson's "Fourteen Points". The two nations clashed on debts, reparations, and restraints on Germany.

Clemenceau was also determined that a buffer state consisting of the German territory west of the Rhine should be established under domination of France. In the eyes of the U.S. and British representatives, such a crass violation of the principle of self-determination would only breed future wars; and a compromise was therefore offered Clemenceau, which he accepted. The territory in question was to be occupied by Allied troops for a period of five to fifteen years; and a zone extending fifty kilometers east of the Rhine was to be demilitarized. In addition, Wilson and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George agreed that the United States and Great Britain, by treaty, would guarantee France against aggression. The importance of this pledge cannot be overstated.

Interwar years

The French ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. It served as the French embassy from 1936–1985.

During the interwar years, the two nations remained friendly. Beginning in the 1920s, U.S. intellectuals, painters, writers, and tourists were drawn to French art, literature, philosophy, theatre, cinema, fashion, wines, and cuisine. A number of American artists, such as Josephine Baker, had successes in France. Paris was also quite welcoming to Jazz music and black artists– since France, contrary to a significant part of the U.S. at the time, had no racial discrimination laws. U.S. novelists such as William Faulkner and numerous filmmakers influenced French life.

In 1928 the two nations sponsored the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war, and in the thirties both governments favored capitalism over socialism. In the Second World War the U.S. again favored France in opposition to Germany. Franklin D. Roosevelt aided the French with cash, munitions, and supplies but repeatedly refused to declare war on Axis and to provide any troops. Relations cooled during the war, however. Elements of the defeated France established a fascist regime at Vichy in June 1940. The United Kingdom under Winston Churchill rejected the fascist regime from the start and instead supported the Free French, the French Resistance against the fascist regime. In contrast, the U.S. administration under Roosevelt initially decided to support the fascist regime in Vichy. This resulted in a significant clash between Roosevelt and Charles De Gaulle (leader of the Free French).

Postwar years

In the postwar years, both cooperation and discord persisted. The United States helped revive the French economy with the Marshall Plan and in 1949 again became a formal ally through the North Atlantic treaty. Though the United States openly disapproved of French efforts to regain control of colonies in Africa and Southeast Asia, it supported the French government in fighting the Communist uprising in French Indochina[5]. However, in 1954, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower declined French requests for a massive aerial strikes (which were to include nuclear weapons) to relieve besieged French forces at Dien Bien Phu[citation needed].

Both countries opposed the Soviet Union in Cold War confrontations but went through another crisis in 1956. When France, Britain, and Israel attacked Egypt, which had recently nationalized the Suez Canal and shown signs of warming relations with the Soviet Union and China, Eisenhower forced them to withdraw. The Suez Crisis had a profound impact both on the UK (which subsequently aligned its foreign policy to that of the U.S.) and on France (which began to consider that the U.S. could not be counted upon as a reliable ally).

While occasional tensions surfaced between the governments, the French public, except for the Communists, generally had a good opinion of the United States throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. Despite some degree of cultural friction, the United States was seen as a benevolent giant, the land of modernity, and the French youth took a taste to things American such as chewing gum, Coca-Cola, and rock'n'roll.

After Charles de Gaulle became president he clashed with the U.S. over France's building of its own nuclear weapons (see: Force de frappe) and Britain's admission into the European Economic Community. These and other tensions led to de Gaulle's decision in 1966 to withdraw French forces from the integrated military structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and to expel NATO from its headquarters at Fontainebleau. De Gaulle's foreign policy was centered on an attempt to limit the power and influence of both superpowers, which would increase France's international prestige in relative terms. De Gaulle hoped to move France from being a follower of the United States to a leading First World power with a large following among certain non-aligned Third World countries. The nations de Gaulle considered potential participants in this grouping were those in France's traditional spheres of influence: Africa and the Middle East. The two nations differed over the waging of the Vietnam War, in part because French leaders were convinced that the United States could not win. The recent French experience with the Algerian War of Independence was that it was impossible, in the long run, for a democracy to impose by force a government over a foreign population without considerable manpower and probably the use of unacceptable methods such as torture. The French popular view of the United States worsened at the same period, as it became to be seen as an imperialist power.

U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac during the 27th G8 summit, July 21, 2001

Relations improved somewhat under de Gaulle's successors, but tensions reappeared intermittently. France, more strongly than any other nation, has seen the European Union as a method of counter-balancing American power, and thus works towards such ends as having the Euro challenge the preeminent position of the United States dollar in global trade and developing a European defense initiative as an alternative to NATO. Overall, the U.S. has much closer relations with the other large European powers, Great Britain and Germany. In the 1980s the two nations cooperated on some international matters but disagreed sharply on others, such as Operation El Dorado Canyon and the desirability of a reunified Germany.

Interior Minister Charles Pasqua expelled CIA agents from France in 1995, on charges of economic espionage.[6]

Iraq War and Mideast conflict

France, along with other nations such as Germany, Belgium, China and Russia, opposed a proposed U.N. resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.[7] During the run-up to the war, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin emerged as a prominent critic of the George W. Bush administration's Iraq policies. Despite the recurring rifts, the often ambivalent relationship remained formally intact. A few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Jacques Chirac -- later known for his frosty relationship with Bush—had ordered the French secret services to collaborate closely with U.S. intelligence, and created Alliance Base in Paris, a joint-intelligence service center charged with enacting the Bush administration's War on Terror.

President George W. Bush meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. Since Sarkozy's election, ties between France and the United States have strengthened considerably.

Public attempts in 2003 to boycott French goods in retaliation for perceived French "active hostility toward America"[8] ultimately fizzled out, having had little impact. Nonetheless, the Iraq war, the attempted boycott, and anti-French sentiments whipped up by American commentators and politicians bred increased suspicion of the United States among the French public in 2003, just as anti-war demonstrations and the actions of the French government bred a similar level of increased distrust of France in the United States. By 2006, only one American in six considered France an ally of the United States.[9]

Recently, relations between the two nations have begun to thaw. A Pew Global Attitudes survey in June 2006 revealed that 52% of Americans had a positive view of France, up from 46% in 2005.[10] Other reports indicate Americans are moving not so much toward favorable views of France as toward ambivalence[11], and that views toward France have stabilized roughly on par with views toward Russia and China.[12]

Later on, following burning issues like Hezbollah's rise in Lebanon, Iran's nuclear program and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, George Bush urged Jacques Chirac and other world leaders to "stand up for peace" in the face of extremism during a meeting in New York on September 19, 2006. Strong French and American diplomatic cooperation at the United Nations played an important role in the Cedar Revolution, which saw the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. France and the United States also worked together (with some tensions) in crafting U.N. resolution 1701, intended to bring about a ceasefire in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict.

Nicolas Sarkozy's election as president

Relations between France and the United States have become more friendly after the pro-American politician Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of France in 2007.[13]

In 2007, Sarkozy delivered a speech before the U.S. Congress which was a strong affirmation of French-American friendship. During his visit he met with President George W. Bush as well as senators John McCain and Barack Obama. This visit took place before the two senators were chosen as party nominees. Both also met with Sarkozy in Paris after securing their respective nominations in 2008; after receiving Obama in July, he was quoted saying "Obama? C'est mon copain",[14] which means "Obama? He's my buddy." Because of Obama's and Sarkozy's history, relations between the two countries are expected to improve further.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Christina Bellantoni Hill fries free to be French again The Washington Times, Retrieved August 3, 2006

Further reading

  • Philippe Roger (trans Sharon Bowman, 2005), The American Enemy: the history of French anti-Americanism, University of Chicago Press


  1. ^ Conférence de presse de M. Hervé Morin, ministre de la Défense
  2. ^
  3. ^ Copy of 1778 alliance treaty signed by B. Franklin
  4. ^ George Lockhart Rives. The United States and Mexico, 1821-1848. 2. p. 91. 
  5. ^ "The Pentagon Papers, Chapter 4, "US and France in Indochina, 1950-56"". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  6. ^ CIA 1995–1996 Economic Espionage in France (English)
  7. ^ " - White House all but concedes U.N. defeat - Mar. 12, 2003". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  8. ^ "Boycott France!". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  9. ^ "United States (Harper's Magazine)". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  10. ^ Microsoft Word - Pew Global Attitudes 2006 Report _without embargo label_ for release 6.13 with correction 6-21.doc
  11. ^ "Rasmussen Reports: The most comprehensive public opinion coverage ever provided for a presidential election.". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  12. ^ "Nations". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  13. ^ "US Relationship with France - France and United States Relations". Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  14. ^ "Le Figaro - International : Sarkozy : «Obama ? C'est mon copain !»". Retrieved 17 December 2008. 
  15. ^ "Obama et moi". Retrieved 17 December 2008. 

External links



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