Securing American Independence: John Jay and the French Alliance

By Frank W. Brecher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

From the French-U.S. Alliance to Spain's Entrance into the War, February 1778-April 1779

FRANCE'S MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC STRATEGY AND ACTIVITIES

At first blush, one might have expected that such a longanticipated war between France and England would have been ushered in by a series of major battles, at least at sea, in the first year of its outbreak. But this was not the case. Instead, 1778 witnessed only minor naval skirmishes on the fringes of merely posturing maneuvers by the two sides' main fleets. Many at the time—and since—viewed this record as a major strategic error by Vergennes's France on the grounds that it cost it a chance to end the war quickly by virtue of a decisive blow, such as a secure landing on the underdefended British coast following a victorious sea battle for domination of the Channel. After all, France was the power that forced the confrontation and determined its timing, presumably in the belief that it had the military and naval capability to defeat a nation already taxed severely by its struggle across the Atlantic. 236 As the French embassy in London wrote Vergennes, following its March 14, 1778, delivery to the English government of France's 10 March “Declaration” announcing the signing on 6 February of a friendship and commercial treaty with the U.S.: that action has assured France of “a century of peace by a year of war.” 237 Certainly, this was the general view of the Amer-

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