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American Revolution: 1776–1783

International Alliances during the American Revolution

Agreements and Support from France

France provided the Patriots with loans, supplies, and troops during the American Revolution.

Following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress established a secret Committee of Correspondence with France. Benjamin Franklin sent letters to the French describing various successes and worked hard to secure support for the American cause.

French foreign minister Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, supported the idea of an alliance—or official agreement of cooperation—with the Americans. However, his confidence in their ability to win the war wavered in the early years of the conflict. He was willing, however, to extend secret loans to the Americans before signing a formal alliance.
The French foreign minister, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, was eager to aid the Patriots as revenge for Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War.
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-45183
Gravier agreed to formally enter the American Revolution in 1778 after the American victories in the Battles of Saratoga. The Americans and French signed the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce on February 6, 1778. The first treaty marked France's formal entry into the war and made it possible for other European countries to enter the alliance. Additionally, it prevented either country from signing its own separate peace agreement with Great Britain. The second treaty encouraged friendly relations and trade between France and the United States. It also recognized the United States as an independent nation.

France's contributions to the war effort were vast and varied. In addition to monetary support, the French contributed supplies such as clothing and weapons as well as invaluable military and naval support. Beginning in 1778 France sent over 12,000 troops to assist the Patriots. Many of them—such as the marquis de Lafayette—were influenced by the Americans' concepts of freedom and democracy.

Following the Patriots' victory, many French soldiers returned home with ideas of establishing a democracy of their own. In 1789 de Lafayette was one of the nobles who took part in the French Revolution, ridding France of King Louis XVI and the concept of absolute monarchy. De Lafayette called on his American colleague Thomas Jefferson to assist in writing the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen," which laid out basic governing concepts for the new French government. The document was adopted as the preamble to the French Constitution.

In addition to France, other countries took note of the United States as a new global power. Imperialist governments in Europe—those with colonies of their own—grew fearful as their liberal movements gained momentum from the Patriots' victory.

Support from Spain

Spain provided the Americans with supplies but did not sign a formal alliance with them.

    Like France, Spain was a historic enemy of Great Britain. The Spanish resented their loss of territory to Britain in the Seven Years' War of 1756–63. However, the Spanish rulers held many colonies in the Americas and opposed the underlying goals of the American Revolution. Despite this fact, Spain joined the conflict as an ally to France and began routing supplies to the Americans through New Orleans in Spanish Louisiana and Havana, Cuba. Goods from New Orleans were shipped up the Mississippi River before making their way to Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania.

    Spain signed a treaty with France in April 1779 and issued a declaration of war against Great Britain on June 21, 1779. The Spanish did not enter into a formal alliance with the United States, instead opting to acknowledge American independence after the war. Spain led military and naval efforts against the British in the South, Central America, and the Mediterranean.

    Agreements with and Support from the Netherlands

    By 1782 the Netherlands formally supported the Americans, trading with the Patriots and providing them with loans.

      Unlike France and Spain, the Netherlands was considered an ally of Great Britain. This did not, however, mean that the Dutch supported the British cause. The American Revolution received widespread support from the Dutch across all social classes, even the nobility. When France joined the conflict as an American ally, many people in the Netherlands also wanted to support the Patriots. The Dutch government—a longtime ally of Britain—refused to take action.

      Dutch merchants, however, had begun facilitating American trade during the early days of the war through their Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius. Their British allies saw this trade as smuggling. Six years later, British ships fired on the island's trading facilities, putting an end to the commerce between the nations.

      At the same time, the Dutch city of Amsterdam worked on its own peace treaty with the United States independent of the Dutch government. A draft of the treaty fell into British hands and led to a British declaration of war on the Netherlands. This new conflict united the Dutch with the Americans against a common foe. The Dutch engaged in some direct fighting with the British, but the majority of their involvement was monetary in nature.

      In 1782 the Netherlands acknowledged American independence and extended the Continental Congress a loan of five million guilders. By 1794, that number would jump to 30 million guilders, or a contemporary equivalent of about 12 million dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that would equal about 264 million dollars.

      Aid from Foreign Countries
      (Dollar Amounts Reflect Contemporary Monetary Values)

      France Spain Netherlands
      $2 million in loans

      $2 million in associated costs of sending troops overseas

      12,000 soldiers
      Shipped various supplies and other goods from New Orleans to Fort Pitt Upward of $12 million in loans to the Continental Congress between 1782 and 1794