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The Quasi-War with France, 1798-1800

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Franco-American Treaties of 1778
The Jay Treaty of 1794
The XYZ Affair
Benjamin Stoddert and the Rise of the Navy
Objectives and Tactics of the Quasi-War
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Franco-American Treaties of 1778


During the first two years of the American Revolution, the Americans struggled to gain not only military victories against the British, but also international recognition from France. The military might and financial power of the French were crucial to American success, and Benjamin Franklin headed up a secret delegation to the French court to seek an alliance. Though the French were sympathetic to the colonies, they initially hesitated to support the cause openly. Should the colonies fail, France would have little to show for her efforts other than a bloody war with her longtime enemy, Britain.

However, the American victory over the British at Saratoga in 1777 convinced the French of the American resolve to overthrow the British.
 
Seal of Napoleon. From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
France opened formal negotiations with Franklin's delegation to establish a formal alliance. Franklin's diplomacy resulted in two treaties.

The first was the Treaty of Alliance between the United States and France, signed on February 6, 1778. Essentially, the treaty formally stated that France would openly support the Americans in their war against England. The French army, navy, and treasury were at the disposal of the Americans. Both sides further agreed not to enter into any separate peace settlement with England. France and the United States were now obligated to see the war through to its proper end. The treaty of alliance virtually guaranteed American independence through combined military might. Ironically, the treaty would later lead America and France to war.

The second treaty signed with France was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and France on February 6, 1778. This treaty set up the trade agreements that were to govern commercial interests between the soon-to-be-independent American states and the kingdom of France. Free trade would reign between the nations. Both agreed to aid one another's ships in times of peace and war, and to refuse aid to the other's enemies, including privateers.

The successful negotiation of these treaties ultimately led to American independence, but it also set the stage for international complications for the new republic. As revolutionary France warred with England in the 1790s, the Americans, still obligated under the treaties, were technically allied with France against England. However, such an action was not in the best interests of the struggling new nation, and the Americans unilaterally disavowed the treaty of alliance signed in 1778. Outraged by this act of ill will by the Americans, France began to take action against American shipping on the high seas.

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The Jay Treaty of 1794

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