AMERICANS had emerged triumphantly from "the times that try men's souls," but they did not endure prosperity as successfully. The alliance with France was followed by a letdown in the war effort that almost cost the United States the war. Under the conviction that peace and prosperity were just around the corner, Americans put the war behind them and settled down to enjoy the fruits of victory. As a result, in the midst of the struggle for freedom, we find the American people taking a long week-end and calling peace when there was no peace.
From the beginning of the war, Washington had bewailed the difficulty of persuading Americans "that there is, or can be, danger till the Bayonet is pushed at their Breasts. . . . When we receive a check, and are not quite undone we are apt to fancy we have gained a victory; and when we do gain any little advantage, we imagine it decisive and expect the war immediately to end." Alexander Hamilton observed that the people and the governments, if they should "get it into their heads that the enemy would remain idle for six weeks, would think they had a right to doze away forty days at least." Much of Washington's caution sprang from his fear that defeat would produce in the people "a total relaxation and debility . . . from which perhaps we should not be able to recover." After 1778, it began to appear that victory had the same untoward effects.
Americans were prone to view the French alliance as the beginning of a landslide that would eventually sweep all Europe into their camp. Other nations would hasten to align themselves with the republic against Great Britain; and opposed by a host of enemies, it could hardly be doubted that Britain would go down to crushing defeat. Thus the sixth of February, 1778--the day on which the Franco-American alliance was signed--