The French Connection

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Yet peace, like war, has its capacity to surprise. The Jeremiahs in England had bemoaned the possible loss of the American colonies for over a decade. It would, they said, be the economic ruin of Britain. They echoed Chatham’s immortal words that America was “the fountain of our wealth.” They forecast that France would be there, drinking deeply. There would be no drop left for Britain. Yet in fact British trade to America sped to dizzying heights after peace was signed. If the French did not gain America’s trust, at least they won back not only a few islands in the Caribbean but also, and much more important, their self-respect, though at the cost of an empty treasury and the certainty that sooner or later Britain would seek her revenge—as she did, a revenge that culminated in the shattering French defeat at Waterloo.

The reluctant warriors the Spaniards did better in territory by regaining Florida, east and west, and securing Louisiana; but, alas, they did not recover their self-respect, for Gibraltar remained firmly British. Neither France nor Frenchmen gained much from their expensive American alliance. Mr. Du Pont de Nemours, perhaps, fared best with his huge fortune made from gunpowder. Lafayette, as few adolescents do, realized his dreams of glory. Beaumarchais got nothing but years of litigation, Rochambeau only a statue outside the White House. The rest of the glittering cavalcade, the like of which America was never to see again, took back little but the memory of American girls. The Prince de Broglie could never forget the sparkling eyes of Betsy Brown of Providence. The Comte de Ségur, however, took a deeper, if no more lasting, impression with him—but one, too, shared by many of his young aristocratic companions. “I leave,” he wrote, “a country where one follows a simple code of simple laws, and respecting good morals, one is happy and tranquil. … I was treated as a brother everywhere in America. I saw only public confidence, hospitality and cordiality. … I know a country cannot long preserve morals as pure as this, but if it keeps them for a century, is a century of happiness nothing?”

The revolutionary generations in America and France died away; and most remarkable, most ironic of all, when in the nineteenth century all the countries of Europe were pouring people into America, scarcely a Frenchman came.