FRANCE AND THE COMING OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
T here was nothing quick or automatic about the coming of the American Revolution or about France's involvement in it. Nearly every American grade-school student learns the litany of major events leading to the Franco-American alliance of 6 February 1778. First, there was Britain's costly victory in the Seven Years' War. France was vanquished in that conflict. But American colonists also felt like losers, because in the war's aftermath the mother country decided to make them contribute to their upkeep by paying more taxes. From this decision emerged the hated Stamp Act of 1765 and its repeal the following year. Similar opposition faced the Townshend Acts of 1767, culminating in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Soon after that event the British crown rescinded all the Townshend duties except the one on tea. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 prompted the imperial government in 1774 to issue the Coercive Acts -- better known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts. These measures in turn led to the assembling of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia on 5 September 1774. Though a majority of delegates and colonists as a whole still hoped for reconciliation, armed conflict erupted in April 1775 with the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord. Not until July 1776, however, did the Second Continental Congress finally proclaim the independence of the new nation.
Long before then, however, many Frenchmen had already become interested in America.1 Through the preceding decades several of the Enlightenment's philosophes had viewed America as a land where their ideas could be fulfilled. In his Essai sur lesmoeurs