France And Us

The French helped us win our Revolution. A few years later we were at war with Napoleon’s navy. The two countries have been falling in and out of love ever since. Why?

Congress serves freedom fries, American military wives talk of freedom kisses, vandals in Bordeaux burn and deface a model of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a good time to remember that American-French relations have had many ups and downs. The ups include the Franco-American joint operation that was the Yorktown campaign; the tough-minded love letter to the United States that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America; fighting on the same side in two world wars; and cinéastes taking inspiration from John Ford.Read more »

Triumph At Yorktown

Two hundred years ago everything depended on a French fleet leaving the Indies on time; two American armies meeting in Virginia on time; a French fleet beating a British fleet; a French army getting along with an American one; and a British general staying put.

Long after midnight, October 23, 1781, hoofbeats broke the silence of slumbering Philadelphia’s empty streets. Reeling in the saddle from exhaustion and shaking with malarial chills, Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman, aide to General George Washington, pulled up to ask an elderly German night watchman how to get to the home of Thomas McKean, president of the Continental Congress. Read more »

The Imprisonment Of Lafayette

and how, a decade after the Revolution, a melodramatic rescue attempt, involving a grateful young American, went awry

Early on the afternoon of June 13, 1777, a French vessel slipped into an isolated inlet on the coast of South Carolina and dropped anchor. On board was the young Marquis de Lafayette, who had purchased the ship for this voyage, along with Baron de Kalb and a group of French nobles, all promised commissions in the “Armies of the States-General of North America” by one of the American agents in Paris, Silas Deane. Read more »

The French Connection

Rakehells, men of good will, adventurers, and bunglers were all in the glittering pageant when the Old World came to help out the New

Two great historic figures, men who have merged into myth, are almost the sole remains of the alliance between France and the revolutionary forces of America—Lafayette and Benjamin Franklin. And like most myths time has changed them, clothing the reality in a web of romance. The young Marquis de Lafayette, plunging ashore on North Island, South Carolina, is seen as the personification of those forces in France that yearned for liberty, for freedom from the oppressive hierarchical regime of an absolutist monarchy.Read more »

Lafayette’s Two Revolutions

Washington was his idol, but he could not apply his American ideals to a France sliding into the Terror

Lafayette, at the head of a group of young French nobles, first landed on American soil amid the live oaks hung with Spanish moss on the swampy shores of the little port of Georgetown in the southern Carolinas, in the early summer of 1777. He came in his own private brig, chartered from a Spaniard.Read more »