Benjamin Franklin Papers
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Conrad-Alexandre Gérard to the American Commissioners, 5 December 1777

Conrad-Alexandre Gérard to the American Commissioners

Copies: American Philosophical Society, Library of Congress

Once the news of Saratoga arrived, the French government lost no time. This polite note arranged a meeting the next day, which revealed that a turning point had come in Franco-American relations.3 Gérard began the interview by telling the commissioners that Maurepas and Vergennes had sent him to congratulate them and to ask for any more news they might have. But that was only the introduction. “He said as there now appeared no doubt of the ability and resolution of the states to maintain their independency, he could assure them it was wished they would reassume their former proposition of an alliance, or any new one they might have, and that it could not be done too soon; that the court of Spain must be consulted, that they might act in harmony, and prepare for war in a few months.”4

A Paris Le 5 xbre 1777

M. Gerard desirant d’avoir l’Honneur de voir Messieurs Franklin, Deane et Lee Demain Matin; il prie Monsieur Deane de vouloir bien lui indiquer l’Heure qui leur sera la plus commode. Il se rendra a Passi et il seroit charmé qu’il convint a ces Messieurs que ce fut de Bonne Heure, c’est-a-dire a 9 ou 10.

M. Gerard a MM. Les Deputés

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3The traditional interpretation of this development is that Saratoga convinced Versailles to go to war and that the court had two reasons. The first was that the Americans’ victory would enable them to negotiate a satisfactory compromise settlement with Great Britain; the second was the conviction, born of that victory, that they would be a viable ally. See Doniol, Histoire, II, 610–793; Claude H. Van Tyne, “Influences Which Determined the French Government to Make the Treaty with America, 1778,” Amer. Hist. Rev., XXI (1915–16), 528–41; Edward S. Corwin, French Policy and the American Alliance of 1778 (Princeton, 1916), 121–69. A recent reinterpretation is that Saratoga was Vergennes’ opportunity: he had already decided on war once French naval preparations were complete, as they virtually were by the end of 1777, and he used the threat of an Anglo-American rapprochement to overcome King Louis’ reluctance and to put pressure on Spain. See Jonathan R. Dull, Franklin the Diplomat: the French Mission, APS Trans., LXXII, pt. 1 (Philadelphia, 1982), pp. 29–32, and French Navy, pp. 83–101.

4BF then undertook to draft for the French court the memorandum below, Dec. 8: Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, I, 357–8.

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