French Diplomatic Duplicity During the American Revolution

The Oswald/Laurens meetings in the Tower of London that were supported by Lord Shelburne set the stage for negotiations to end the war on terms that were agreeable to the United States. Laurens convinced Oswald and Shelburne that the Thirteen Colonies were not going to give in. With backing from the French, Dutch and Spanish, we had the money to continue fighting for some time, if not indefinitely.

Lord North’s government fell in March 1781 and was replaced by one led by Lord Rockingham. With Laurens now in Amsterdam to ensure continued Dutch support and loans, the American negotiating team of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams began meeting with officials of the British government in Paris.

At the time, Adams/Franklin/Jay did not know that the French signed the Treaty of Aranjuez in April 1779 and the British and French were already having secret talks to the end of the war. Negotiated by Carl Grazier, the Comte de Vergennes and French Foreign Minister, the Treaty of Aranjuez committed France to help Spain recapture Gibraltar, Florida and the island of Menorca, one of the Balearic Islands held by Britain. The Franco/Spanish siege of Gibraltar began in June 1789 two years before Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown in October 1781 that provided the impetus for serious peace talks between the rebelling colonists and the mother country.

France’s signature on the Treaty of Aranjuez in April 1779 was significant because it violated three terms of the Treaty of Alliance between France and the United States. Article IV of the Treaty of Alliance committed France to cede all British territory in North America to the United States once it was independent. Returning Florida to Spain and the commitment for a French/Spanish invasion of Newfoundland which was a territory of Britain violated Article IV.

Article X of the Treaty of Alliance stated the French/American partnership would continue to fight England until the United States gained its independence and neither nation would agree to peace until American independence was guaranteed. In the Treaty of Aranjuez, France committed to fight the English only until Gibraltar and Minorca were recaptured.

Article XII of the Treaty of Alliance required any nation who joined the fight for American independence would also commit to fighting England until Britain gave the U.S. its independence. Spain made no such commitment in the Treaty of Aranjuez.

All this is significant because the Treaty of Aranjuez and the secret French/British negotiations without the U.S. at the table gave the Franklin, Adams and Jay the freedom to open direct negotiations with the British without the French being present. Still, seven months of negotiations were needed before the Americans and the British could reach an agreement to end the American Revolution.

The French duplicity represented by the Treaty of Aranjuez had a long-term effect of U.S. foreign relations. Diplomatically and as a matter of foreign policy, the U.S., the Treaty of Aranjuez created a distrust of “foreign entanglements” military alliances that lasted until the end of the Second World War.


Image: Charles Gravier, the Compte de Vergennes, the French Foreign minister from 1774 – 1787. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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