December 1974 | Volume 26, Issue 1
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. These young French idealists found much justification for their attitudes in the simplicity, the honesty, the ruggedness, and the equality of American life—or so we are told. In contrast Benjamin Franklin at Passy symbolized for the sophisticated Parisian salons the true philosopher—natural, unaffected, wise, free from all artifice. The textbooks tell us that the ease of his presence, the extraordinary sanity of his views, his undeviating patriotism, his strength and gravity, rallied all that was best and generous in French society to the American cause. Lafayette, back from America, transmuted warmth into action; and so, standing symbolically behind the serried ranks of Rochambeau’s troops at Yorktown, are Lafayette, with his sword held aloft, and Franklin quietly smiling like a Chinese sage. Both men have left a profusion of papers behind, certain of their place in history and not at all unmindful of the image they wished to display to posterity. Great men though both undeniably were, the writers of history, and so posterity, have perhaps been overgenerous.
Their dazzling prominence has thrown a shadow on many men, and particularly is this true of Lafayette, who was only one of many foreigners whose help was of great aid to the Revolution in the early stages. Who now thinks with gratitude of de Kalb or Pulaski? Or of Lafayette’s compatriots—Pontgibaud, Armand, Duportail, Fleury, and the rest? And although both Arthur Lee and Silas Deane have been rescued from relative obscurity, it is the Franklin of the salon, the cher Papa of the witty, sophisticated middle-aged hostesses, that continues to steal the limelight. To understand the French connection in 1776 one must dig beneath the simplicities symbolized by Lafayette and Franklin, important though they were.
Early in August, 1775, a large coach rattled into Metz and deposited the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of George III, at the door of the military governor, the Comte de Broglie, with whom he was to dine. Gloucester was thirty-two years of age. He had outraged the court, the government, and the king in particular by first living with and then marrying the bastard daughter of Sir Edward Walpole, the son of George H’s great minister Sir Robert. The bitterness of the court, mountainous debts, and ill health had driven him from England. And many politicians, as well as the court, heaved a sigh of relief as Gloucester and his bride left Dover, for he, at loggerheads with his brother, favored the radicals and the firebrands, particularly John Wilkes—the most skillful agitator opposed to the king. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Comte de Broglie was so eager to be his host was that Gloucester could give him firsthand information about the support, or lack of it, that George Ill’s American policy enjoyed in England. Like all of the Hanoverian royal family Gloucester talked volubly and indiscreetly. Influential men in London, powerful men in the provinces, a great number of members of Parliament, were bitterly opposed to his brother’s policy and his brother’s ministers, Gloucester informed Broglie, and the words were as sweet to Brogue’s ear as they were soothing to Gloucester’s bruised ego. Indeed, Gloucester painted so dramatic a picture of the divisions in England that he seemed to hint at a nation on the verge of civil war, the provinces in an uproar, and Ireland in turmoil. In later years, writing of this dinner, Lafayette recalls how he closely cross-examined the duke, and realizing how liberty and freedom were oppressed in England as well as America, he was fired by a desire to spring to America’s aid. Alas, nothing is less likely to be true. Lafayette was a shy, reticent boy, eighteen years of age, young-looking for his years, who had recently been sent to Metz to do garrison duty under his relative Brogue. He was a naive young aristocrat of small experience of the world. Doubtless he sat silent among the equerries, but certainly his imagination was fired, and this was the starting point of Lafayette’s journey to fame.
The dinner, however, had far more important consequences than stirring the warm and passionate heart of an adolescent. De Brogue was a man of the greatest consequence, banished to Metz in semidisgrace because of the defeats he had suffered at the hands of the British, and, like so many men of his class—the elite aristocratic generals of the French army—he longed for revenge for the humiliations inflicted on France by England during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). What rankled most was the Treaty of Paris. De Brogue and his peers loathed the arrogance of the British commissioner installed at Dunkirk, who made certain that the moles and ramparts remained destroyed so that this superb naval base could not be put into a state of readiness. The swift French corsairs based there had preyed happily on the slow, rich British convoys beating their way up the Channel or across the North Sea from the Baltic. Even more bitter were the memories of what had been lost—Canada, the earliest of all French colonies, along with France’s colonies and fortifications in India and Senegal—but worst of all, as Vergennes, the French foreign minister, wrote to Louis xvi at his accession, was the humiliation, the shame of defeat. As Vergennes gloomily noted, the French government, which used to be the greatest of European powers, was no longer consulted. It had become a mere spectator of great events. French pride had been dipped in gall.
The humiliation bore so heavily on France for reasons not commonly realized. France possessed men, money, and materials in a profusion that totally outstripped England. France’s population was some twenty-four million to England’s eight or nine, but the close alliance with Spain (the Family Compact) weighted France’s favorable balance by another ten million. Furthermore, France had on call some three hundred thousand military men and a professional standing army of about a hundred and forty thousand—very well equipped and excellently trained—whereas the British standing army, loathed by Englishmen and constantly under attack by Parliament, numbered about thirtyfive thousand. Although near to equality in naval affairs England was, of course, seriously outnumbered by the combined fleets of France and Spain, and it was for this reason that the British always dreaded a war against France without the support of the Dutch. The material riches of France were commensurate with its population: it possessed excellent armament industries—indeed, the best in the world—backed by great financial resources. But here, at least, England could look eye to eye with France, for England had developed a sophisticated and stable financial system that bred confidence not only in the British people but also in the Dutch, who invested heavily in British funds. Without great financial resources England could never have hoped to defeat the Goliath of France, but money bought mercenary soldiers, notably the Hessians, whose discipline and accuracy of fire the Americans were soon to taste. Even so the British politicians feared France; indeed, they had been scared by their own victories in the Seven Years’ War—especially in 1759, the great annus mirabilis. When Wolfe stormed Quebec, the French fleets were humiliated at Lagos and Quiberon Bay, and even the British army scored one of its rare victories in Europe—at Minden—the first for fifteen years. Chatham, the architect of these victories, had wanted to smash France and Spain for good, but his colleagues were appalled by the breadth of his vision of Europe. They backtracked. And the Treaty of Paris, in 1763, loathed and hated by the French, was in fact an extraordinarily generous treaty, giving back to France almost all, except Canada, that Britain had conquered. This was done quite deliberately in the hope of avoiding another war with France. A severe settlement, many argued, must lead to renewed wars, and the British did not in their hearts believe that they could go on defeating the greatest military power in Europe over and over again. Smug in their own generosity, few English statesmen appreciated the deep sense of ignominy and shame that gnawed at the hearts of Frenchmen such as the Comte de Broglie; for so great a power as France to be humiliated by such a small nation was too bitter.
The Treaty of Paris naturally affected the destiny of America: the expulsion of the French from Canada, which at that time reached down to the headwaters of the Mississippi, freed the West; indeed, one of the reasons that influenced the British government in choosing to take Canada rather than the rich sugar islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique was that military pressure on the frontiers of the American colonies would be relieved. Whether Britain was wise can be endlessly debated. The sugar isles gave the French both commercial riches and superb naval bases from which its fleets could threaten not only Jamaica and the West Indies trade but also the coasts of the southern states. Chatham would have seized both possessionsCanada and the West India Isles—from France, for he felt that the policy of compromise was bound to leave a French dagger pointing at British colonies. He was right, for that dagger was to become the executioner’s axe at Yorktown. The American colonies, therefore, either at peace or at war with England, lay at the very heart of the strategic confrontation between Britain and France.
There was a soldier of fortune present at that dinner at Metz who knew the importance and the intricacy of this strategic situation—de Kalb, a Bavarian soldier long in the service of France, a man of great experience in all the arts of war, specializing in logistics and fortification—who had already spent time in America reconnoitering the situation. A tough professional of excellent judgment, he was as confident of France’s opportunities as de Broglie and as eager for action as young Lafayette.
And there were scores of soldiers, aristocrats like de Broglie, scattered throughout the garrisons of France, longing and praying for revenge and rejoicing in the American opportunity. England’s espionage system was admirable, and her diplomats were alive to the threats, but what should French policy be? Vergennes, the foreign minister, wanted war so long as Spain was a committed ally; but Spain was vulnerable both in America and in the West Indies, and to persuade Spain took time. In any case France needed time to reflect. Also Louis xv, an aging roué, gave his ministers little encouragement; his death in 1774, however, revitalized the administration and strengthened its resolve. Nevertheless for many years the French government had been playing its own war game, plotting and planning how to get a military advantage over Britain. It had sent its master spies and agents to London—the bisexual Chevalier d’Eon, who dressed and lived as a woman, and Beaumarchais, the creator of The Marriage of Figaro , whose contacts were complex and far-reaching. They planned possible invasions of England. They listened to the radicals and tested the opposition to Lord North’s policy. They learned of the weaknesses of the British army, the unpreparedness of its navy. Their reports, always optimistic, flowed into the Quai d’Orsay. Aware of their activities in general, if not always apprised of their detailed information, the British government, through its Ambassador Stormont in Paris, thrust out its jaw, telling the French bluntly that aid to the American rebels would mean war. By the accession of Louis xvi the momentum of involvement was mounting, although Louis xvi and his advisers still hoped to avoid a direct confrontation with Britain. But they were no longer complete masters of the situation. Games became realities.
As soon as it became a shooting war, the Americans needed France desperately; they could manufacture gunpowder but little else. And their financial resources were ludicrously small. America’s urgent needs at first made the French government even more reluctant, for they did not wish to commit themselves to a lost cause and have to confront an armed Britain that might take a quick revenge. And as great nations are wont to do in such circumstances, they tried to make the best of both worlds—give largescale succor to the colonists but protest their neutrality to Britain. What could the king do if idealistic boys like Lafayette chartered ships and sailed as knights errant to America? What could the king do if his subjects sold arms and ammunition or even made loans to the colonists? How could he prevent soldiers of fortune, such as de Kalb—after all, a German—from seeking fame, glory, and riches with Washington’s army?
Naturally armaments were the first necessity and the prime preoccupation, not only of Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin, but also of Beaumarchais, who was as creative in action as in writing. Two million francs were to be given by the French and Spanish governments to his cover company Hortalez & Cie. This money was to be used to buy from the royal arsenals up-to-date weapons that were to be shipped to America. After the governments had paid over the money, the waters became murky and never have wholly cleared. Working as it did under a shroud of secrecy, Beaumarchais’ company became the object of a good deal of suspicion. There were accusations of sharp dealing among the principals involved. At one time Congress was divided over the question of whether it should pay for the military aid that got through, and Beaumarchais became involved in an arduous controversy over payment that was not settled in his favor until thirty-six years after his death. Nevertheless essential supplies got to America—the rifles, the guns, the shells—without which there could have been no victory. Deane played a complicated game, Franklin was careless about secrecy, and Beaumarchais’ ebullient exhibitionism bordered on the suicidal. At Le Havre, incognito in order to expedite a ship loaded with armaments, he appeared at its theatre to rehearse his play The Barber of Seville . It is not surprising that the British knew exactly what aid was being sent to America. But so slow were communications, so leisurely the reaction to military intelligence, that Beaumarchais’ vessels mostly got through.
As with armaments, so with men. The court was forced by its official policy of neutrality to voice disapproval, particularly of Lafayette, who showed no discretion whatsoever about his intentions. Naturally, he was an ardent proselytizer among his young aristocratic friends. Lafayette, who enjoyed the control of his own immense fortune, could not be stopped by his family, and the court’s measures to stop him were always halfhearted and always too late. Also the French were eager to get de Kalb into America; on his judgment and military intelligence they could wholly rely, and Lafayette’s ship was most convenient. It is not surprising that the order to arrest Lafayette arrived too late. When de Kalb reached America with young Lafayette, they found plenty of foreign military adventurers, most of them with supporting letters from Silas Deane, swarming around Congress demanding the highest commissions. Many American commanders were naturally irritated to see Frenchmen promoted above them. Congress itself was growing restive, yet the importance, the need for France was so great that most of the French got what they wanted, and Lafayette himself became a general under the avuncular care of George Washington.
The early days of the French connection need not be told. Most of the individual Frenchmen fought well; most of them took a gloomy view of American fighting ability, generalship, and capacity to survive. De Kalb formed a low opinion of Washington’s abilities that was only dispelled by Valley Forge. At times even Lafayette’s enthusiasm wilted. But his dreams sustained him—the reconquest of Canada, a descent on India, the expulsion of the British from the West Indies. There was nothing mean about Lafayette’s hopes and fantasies.
It was England’s inability to make the kill that finally convinced the government of France that outright support should not be withheld. This was strategically right—it always had been—but now it was tactically correct. Yet as Louis xvi’s advisers well knew, such a course of action meant war with England. England’s control of the Atlantic had to be broken or evaded if first-class French troops were to be landed in America, and without French troops stalemate or compromise was a more likely end to the war than American victory. But the only hope of overcoming the English navy was with a combined Franco-Spanish naval force. France could not commit herself openly, therefore, to the American cause without Spain.
Spain was slow to move. Spain claimed vast unmapped territories in the West and Southwest of America. Louisiana belonged to Spain, and she thought of the Mississippi as a Spanish river. Florida, now British, had been Spanish, and Spain wanted it back. Would a victorious America respect her territorial rights? Her government doubted it. Also the Spaniards thought that one successful revolution might lead to another—and the next time might be in Spanish possessions in South America. The Spanish ministers were perhaps dilatory, but they enjoyed clarity of vision.
Had this been all, Spain would have been impossible to move, but Spain, too, had suffered searing humiliations. Gibraltar, a part of the Spanish homeland, was in British possession; Jamaica, in Spanish eyes a nest of detestable mercantile pirates who preyed on her colonies, was almost as bad. To get Gibraltar back, to win Jamaica, and to have Florida restored made the American gamble seem just worthwhile. It was hard going for France’s diplomats, but they knew from long experience how to handle Spain. And, alas for England, they had more surprising and unusual success elsewhere. Britain’s imperious handling of neutral shipping had irritated and outraged the Dutch, their agelong allies. Thus French diplomats were able to persuade the Dutch to keep out of the conflict, to declare their neutrality, which was a bitter blow for England, who needed the Dutch navy to counterbalance France’s acquisition of the Spanish.
And so finally, after 1779, the American revolt became a global war, the third act of the great imperial conflict between France and Britain, and it spelled the end of the possibility of Anglo-American compromise. There had been great sympathy in England for the American cause; once France and Spain were allied with America, that sympathy died, drowned in a surge of patriotism. The city of Bristol, which had been ardently pro-American, turned around completely and supported Lord North. Until the entry of the French complete victory, although desirable, was not necessary for the British. In America stalemate, combined with soaring inflation and an unpaid army on the brink of dissolution, might have strengthened the powerful loyalist party sufficiently to secure peace. Time therefore, so long as help from Europe was kept to a minimum, was on England’s side. With France and Spain as belligerents, British victories became essential—victories over the colonists and victories over Spain and France. The British knew that Gibraltar would be invested, France’s allies in India would take the offensive, Jamaica would become a target, and English commerce throughout the world would be a convenient and easy prey for privateers. And England had no allies. Without the Dutch her navy was outnumbered, and her army always had been pitifully small. Quick victories were essential, and quick victories eluded England.
French tactics were simple: Admiral de Grasse would threaten England’s possessions in the West Indies to draw off the British navy so that seasoned French troops could be landed in America. The plan was easy, the accomplishment difficult and muddled. The Americans asked prudently for four thousand men—sufficient to help, yet unlikely to be regarded as the decisive army. The point was rapidly grasped by the French, who elected to send eight thousand men, including some cavalry with horses. Supplies, of course, for the eight thousand men had to go with them. Almost incredibly quickly, by eighteenth-century standards, seventy-five hundred men were assembled at Brest. Alas, there were no ships to take them across the Atlantic. The Spaniards, already myopically preoccupied with Gibraltar, could send none. The Spaniards also were huffy because the French refused to send their army to recover Florida. So in the end only fifty-five hundred sailed, and not a single horse—not even the commander in chief’s. The decision was a tough one, for Rochambeau parted with two tried war-horses that he could never replace, but it was two horses or twenty men. Rochambeau chose the men.
A typical decision, easy maybe for Rochambeau, but it would have been almost impossible for most European generals, conscious of their status and dignity. But Rochambeau possessed great qualities and great integrity. A professional soldier for all of his life, he had steadily risen through ability, sound judgment, and honesty—qualities that he was now to display at their best. Excepting horses, the logistics of the expedition were admirable. Everything went with it—clothes and tents, as well as guns and bullets. And most important of all, money. Rochambeau was well aware of the dangers for a French army in America. After all, the French alliance had created considerable distaste; many Americans were still English enough to hate the French and to suspect France’s motives. There was quite a strong anti-French party in Congress, led by the Lees. A few rapes, a little pillaging, demands to Congress for money, and the French would be hated more than the British and as much as the Hessians. Rochambeau resolved to pay for everything that his army required, and his experience told him that he would have to pay grossly inflated prices—that was the nature of war. He demanded and got eight million livres for the expedition, a vast sum by eighteenth-century standards. The army was of high quality, and, as if to impress the Americans with the sincerity of their intentions, some of the great aristocratic families were with it: the Duc de Lauzun, with six hundred men of his own family corps, the Légion de Lauzun; the Marquis de Laval-Montmorency was there; and, at last, the Vicomte de Noailles, the ardent friend of Lafayette, among scores of others, eager to revenge the ignominy of France.
All of these aristocrats were young, rich, extravagant, brilliantly dressed, and exquisitely mannered, used to the gardens and sophistications of Versailles and Paris. They found colonial America a primitive place, but they were fascinated by it. They loathed the food but loved the girls, whose freedom in society amazed them as much as their beauty attracted them. The setting, in terms of houses and furniture, they regarded as unnecessarily crude, but the style of life—its ease, its freedom—won their hearts. But what amazed them most of all was the absence of grinding poverty, at that time the dark background to their gilded lives.
They were ardent, confident men, yet at first it looked to them as if the ignominy might never be obliterated, but only strengthened. Before landing at Newport, Rhode Island, on July 10, 1780, Rochambeau had heard of the fall of Charleston. He found the American forces dispirited, ill equipped, and unpaid. Inflation was rampant, and the English stranglehold on Charleston and also New York encouraged defeatism and strengthened those drawn to compromise. In October he sent his son, Vicomte Rochambeau, back to France, requesting a second division, more supplies, and enough cash for George Washington to pay his army. The young Rochambeau exchanged the gloom of New England for the gloom of Versailles. The Spanish were obsessed with Gibraltar and reluctant to commit any forces except in Florida. The loss of Charleston depressed Louis xvi, and neither he nor his ministers were relieved by what they heard of the American army: the news of the Pennsylvania mutinies had already reached them. Another British victory and the end would be in sight. France would then be mercilessly savaged in the Caribbean. Another long war seemed to be in prospect, and France’s treasury was on the point of exhaustion. Tough decisions were made —no more troops were to go to America. Rochambeau must win or lose with what he had. But six million livres, enough for Washington’s army, were scraped together. Rochambeau was told that if opportunity and his own tactical situation allowed, de Grasse would be permitted to leave his West Indian station to help in a combined attack on the British during the next campaigning session. Nevertheless de Grasse’s main purpose—to attack Jamaica with Spain—was his first priority.
Victory in 1781 sprang mainly from de Grasse’s judgment. De Grasse had long served in the French navy but in subordinate capacities. Now in his late fifties, he was a most experienced professional sailor. But he was more than that. His ancestry went straight back to the Prince d’Antibes of the tenth century. His birth, his education, his inherited assumptions about his role in life, bred in him a supreme self-confidence. He made decisions easily but never foolishly. The arrogance of his temperament enabled him to ignore instructions that hobbled his actions. Like his ancestors he pursued gloire . Very quickly he realized there was little to be gained in the Caribbean. Taking a minor island here and there was unlikely to make his name memorable to posterity, and in any case the English fleet, strong but elusive, did not wish to engage in a decisive battle.
This de Grasse had realized before he crossed the Atlantic. From the very earliest days of his command he had longed to perform a bold and decisive stroke against England in America. He had written at once to Rochambeau to ask what he might do to help.
Rochambeau, as clear-sighted as ever, knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted de Grasse’s fleet to contain or destroy the British ships that were sustaining their troops and he wanted more French soldiers and, equally important, more French money. But the point of attack—New York or Virginia—was not Rochambeau’s to decide, and de Grasse was not to leave the West Indies without the concurrence of his Spanish ally.
In war luck helps, although it rarely decides the outcome. Perhaps luck, however, was more decisive in the last year of the Revolutionary War than in most. At first the dice fell badly. Washington decided to attack New York. Washington and Rochambeau’s armies met outside New York amid much mutual admiration of the differing qualities of each—the splendor, the discipline, the professional efficiency of the French striking the Americans and the simplicity, toughness, and dedication of the Americans surprising the French. Nevertheless Rochambeau had little hope of victory. In his judgment it was hopeless to attempt to take New York. It was doubtful if de Grasse could get his fleet over the harbor bar in order to be of material help, and Sir Henry Clinton’s forces were too strong. And more than half the burning summer passed before Washington began to realize that he was wrong and Rochambeau’s strategic sense correct, and that the right British army to attack was Cornwallis’ in Virginia. De Grasse settled that question, as indeed he was to settle the war.
De Grasse saw his opportunity for enduring fame. His Spanish counterpart in the West Indies was, as Spanish admirals tended to be, slow, very slow in his preparations for the attack in Jamaica. Closing one eye like a Nelson, de Grasse exceeded his instructions and left his Spanish ally for two months, taking with him nearly four thousand soldiers and, better still, a million livres raised for him by the governor of Havana. Rochambeau had informed de Grasse that he would be wanted at either Chesapeake or New York. De Grasse signalled Rochambeau that Chesapeake was his goal: he only had eight weeks to spare; every day was vital, and he, too, feared the harbor bar at New York. So he was en route to Chesapeake. Clinton saw the American and French armies strike camp and march south, but he did not follow, for he still believed that New York would be the ultimate target. And miracle followed miracle. De Grasse landed his troops on the James River without resistance, the American and French armies arrived there unmolested by the British, and the French fleet from Rhode Island made a successful rendezvous with de Grasse’s ships of the line. Three armies and two navies spread over sixteen hundred miles of land and ocean came neatly together—considering the logistic difficulties and the casualness of eighteenth-century communications, it borders on the incredible. As in an elaborate but deadly game of chess, the outcome was so clear to Cornwallis that he rapidly threw in his hand. There was not much battle and singularly little bloodshed at York town, but what there was fell mainly on the French, whose casualties were twice those of the American forces. Even so they were tiny—fifty-two killed, a hundred and thirty-four wounded. And everyone spoke glowingly of the dash and élan of Lafayette and his young aristocratic friends. But it was de Grasse’s fleet in the river that had sealed Cornwallis’ fate.
De Grasse had had the luck—for complex reasons that included bad British judgment—to hold temporary command of the sea and so secured the fame he pursued. Alas, fame proved fickle, for the man who made Yorktown possible was, within six months, defeated and taken prisoner at the Battle of the Saints. But for Rochambeau and Lafayette and the glittering army of the French aristocrats the next year was a delightful round of dinners, balls, and enthusiastic girls. The French army was meticulously correct, paying stiff, usually outrageous prices for all that it needed; so mutual happiness abounded. The diplomats took over, for Britain had conceded defeat—surprisingly so, but Earliament was restive. The country gentlemen who sat there could not face the cost of a long global war. And the French, too, with an empty treasury, were as eager as the British to extricate themselves from America, especially after de Grasse’s defeat in 1782.
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.