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Treaties, Franco-American

In September, 1776, the Continental Congress, after weeks of deliberation, adopted an elaborate plan of a treaty to be proposed to France. They wanted France to engage in a separate war with Great Britain, and so give the Americans an opportunity for establishing their independence. They renounced in favor of France all eventual conquests in the. West Indies, but claimed the sole right of acquiring British Continental America, and all adjacent islands, including the Bermudas, Cape Breton and Newfoundland. They proposed arrangements concerning the fisheries; avowed the principle of Frederick the Great that free ships made free goods, and that a neutral power may lawfully trade with a belligerent. Privateering was to be restricted, not abolished; and while the Americans were not willing to make common cause with the French, they were willing to agree not to assist Great Britain in the war on France, nor trade with that power in goods contraband of war. The commissioners sent to negotiate the treaty were authorized to promise that, in case France should become involved in the war, neither party should make a definitive treaty of peace without six months notice to the other.

Franklin, Deane, and Lee were United States commissioners at the French Court at the close of 1776. The Continental Congress had elaborated a plan of a treaty with France, by which it was hoped the States might secure their independence. The commissioners were instructed to press for an immediate declaration of the French government in favor of the Americans. Knowing the desire of the French to widen the breach and cause a dismemberment of the British Empire, the commissioners were to intimate that a reunion of the colonies with Great Britain might be the consequence of delay. But France was then unwilling to incur the risk of war with Great Britain. When the defeat of [112] Burgoyne was made known at Versailles, assured thereby that the Americans could help themselves, the French Court were ready to treat for an alliance with them. The presence of an agent of the British ministry in Paris, on social terms with the American commissioners, hastened the negotiations, and, on Feb. 6, 1778, two treaties were secretly signed at Paris by the American commissioners and the Count de Vergennes on the part of France. One was a commercial agreement, the other an alliance contingent on the breaking out of hostilities between France and Great Britain. It was stipulated in the treaty of alliance that peace should not be made until the mercantile and political independence of the United States should be secured. The conciliatory bills of Lord North made the French monarch anxious, for a reconciliation between Great Britain and her colonies would thwart his scheme for prolonging the war and dismembering the British Empire; and he caused the secret treaties to be officially communicated to the British government, in language so intentionally offensive that the anonuncement was regarded as tantamount to a declaration of war, and the British ambassador at the French Court was withdrawn.

Because the treaties with France had been repeatedly violated; the just claims of the United States for the reparation of injuries to persons and property had been refused; attempts on the part of the United States to negotiate an amicable adjustment of all difficulties between the two nations had been repelled with indignity; and because, under the authority of the French government, there was yet pursued against the United States a system of predatory violence infracting those treaties, and hostile to the rights of a free and independent nation—Congress, on July 7, 1797, passed an act declaring the treaties heretofore concluded with France no longer obligatory on the United States.

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