Franco-American relations refers to the international relations between France and the United States since 1776. France is the oldest ally of the United States due to its role in the American Revolutionary War. The relations are part of France–Americas relations. The relationship has been peaceful (except for an undeclared naval war in 1798–99). The Franco-American relationship has been one of the oldest and most important for the United States.
|Area||674,843 km2 (260,558 sq mi)||9,526,468 km2 (3,794,101 sq mi )|
|Population Density||116/km2 (301/sq mi)||33.7/km2 (87.4/sq mi)|
|Largest city||Paris – 2,234,105 (12,161,542 Metro)||New York City – 8,244,910 (18,897,109 Metro)|
|Government||Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic||Federal presidential constitutional republic|
|Official language||French (de facto and de jure)||English (de facto)|
|Main religions||58% Christianity, 31% no religion, 7% Islam,
1% Judaism, 1% Buddhism, 2% Other
|78.4% Christianity, 16% no religion, 0.6% Islam, 1.7% Judaism, 0.7% Buddhism, 2% Other|
|Ethnic groups||84% French, 7% other European, 7% North African, Other Sub-Saharan African, Indochinese, Asian, Latin American and Pacific Islander.||72.4% White American, 12.6% African American, 4.8% Asian American, 0.9% American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.2% Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, 6.2% Other, 2.9% two or more races, 16.3% Hispanic/Latino (of any race) (2010)|
|GDP (PPP)||$2,257 trillion, $35,613 per capita||$15,094 trillion, $48,386 per capita|
|GDP (nominal)||$2,712 trillion, $42,793 per capita||$15,094 trillion, $48,386 per capita|
|Expatriate populations||145,000 French-born living in the US||100,000 American-born living in France|
|Military expenditures||$62.5 billion||$711.0 billion|
As long as England and France remained at peace in Europe, and as long as the precarious balance in the American interior survived, English and French colonies coexisted without serious difficulty. However, beginning in earnest following the Glorious Revolution in England (1688), the simmering dynastic, religious, and factional rivalries between the Protestant British and Catholic French in both Europe and the Americas triggered four "French and Indian Wars" fought largely on American soil (King William's War, 1689–97; Queen Anne's War, 1702–13; King George's War, 1744–48; and, finally the Seven Years' War, 1756–63). Great Britain finally removed the French from continental North America in 1763 following French defeat in the Seven Years' War. Within a decade, the British colonies were in open revolt, and France retaliated by secretly supplying the independence movement with troops and war materials.
After Congress declared independence in July 1776, its agents in Paris recruited officers for the Continental Army, notably the Marquis de Lafayette, who served with distinction as a major general. Despite a lingering distrust of France, the agents also requested a formal alliance. After readying their fleet and being impressed by the U.S. victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, the French on February 6, 1778, concluded treaties of commerce and alliance that bound them to fight Britain until independence of the United States was assured.
The military alliance began poorly. French Admiral d'Estaing sailed to North America with a fleet in 1778, and began a joint effort with American General John Sullivan to capture a British outpost at Newport, Rhode Island. D'Estaing broke off the operation to confront a British fleet, and then, despite pleas from Sullivan and Lafayette, sailed away to Boston for repairs. Without naval support, the plan collapsed, and American forces under Sullivan had to conduct a fighting retreat alone. American outrage was widespread, and several French sailors were killed in anti-French riots. D'Estaing's actions in a disastrous siege at Savannah, Georgia further undermined Franco-American relations.
The alliance improved with the arrival in the United States in 1780 of the Comte de Rochambeau, who maintained a good working relationship with General Washington. French naval actions at the Battle of the Chesapeake made possible the decisive Franco-American victory at the siege of Yorktown in October 1781, effectively ending the war.
In the peace negotiations between the Americans and the British in Paris in 1783 the American commissioners, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and particularly John Jay, suspected the French of a willingness to sacrifice the American interest in the Western territory extending to the Mississippi River and of being hostile to American fishing rights off Newfoundland. Thus, with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, Jay violated the spirit of the alliance by directly bargaining with the British. Nevertheless, the allies cooperated to produce a treaty that was quite favorable to the new nation.
Six years later, the French Revolution toppled the Bourbon regime. At first, the United States was quite sympathetic to the new situation in France, where an ineffective, authoritarian and undemocratic absolute monarchy was replaced by a constitutional monarchy. However, in the matter of a few years, the situation in France turned sour, as foreign powers tried to invade France and King Louis XVI was accused of high treason. The French revolutionary government then became increasingly authoritarian and brutal, which dissipated some of the U.S. warmth for France.
A crisis emerged in 1793 when France found itself at war again with Great Britain and its allies, this time after the French revolutionary government had executed the king. The new federal government in the U.S. was uncertain how to respond. Should the United States recognize the radical government of France by accepting a diplomatic representative from it? Was the United States obliged by the alliance of 1778 to go to war on the side of France? The treaty had been called "military and economic," and as the United States had not finished paying off the French loan, would the military alliance be ignored as well?
President George Washington (responding to advice from both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson) recognized the French government, but did not support France in the war with Britain, as expressed in his 1793 Proclamation of Neutrality. The proclamation was issued and declared without Congressional approval. Congress instead acquiesced, and a year later passed a neutrality act forbidding U.S. citizens to participate in the war and prohibiting the use of U.S. soil as a base of operation for either side. Thus, the revolutionary government viewed Washington's policy as partial to the enemy.
The first challenge to U.S. neutrality came from France, when its first diplomatic representative, the brash Edmond-Charles Genêt, toured the United States to organize U.S. expeditions against Spain and Britain. Exasperated, Washington demanded Genêt's recall, but by then the French Revolution had taken yet another turn and the new French ministers arrived to arrest Genêt. Washington refused to extradite Genêt (knowing he would otherwise be guillotined). Genêt became a U.S. citizen and married Cornelia Tappan Clinton, daughter of New York governor George Clinton.
France regarded Jay's Treaty (November 1794) between Britain and the United States as hostile. The British agreed to withdraw troops from the Northwest Territory in return for a renewed commitment by the United States that debts incurred before the American Revolution would be paid.
To overcome this resentment John Adams sent a special mission to Paris in 1797 to meet the French foreign minister Talleyrand. The American delegation was shocked, however, when it was demanded that they pay monetary bribes in order to meet and secure a deal with the French government. Adams exposed the episode, known as the "XYZ Affair," which greatly offended Americans even though such bribery was not uncommon among the courts of Europe.
Tensions with France increased to the point that the period is described as an undeclared war. Two years of hostilities at sea, or the "Quasi-War", followed. The Federalists imposed severe restrictions on French sympathizers in the Alien and Sedition Acts. It ended in September 1800 with the Treaty of Morfontaine, which ended the "entangling" French alliance with the United States. In truth, this alliance had only been viable between 1778 and 1783.
By 1800 Napoleon forced Spain to turn over Louisiana, which he envisioned as the base (along with Haiti) of a New World empire. President Thomas Jefferson could tolerate weak Spain but not powerful France in the west. He considered war to prevent French control of the Mississippi River.
At first, though, Jefferson sent his close friend, James Monroe, to France to buy as much of the land around New Orleans as he could. Surprisingly, Napoleon agreed to sell the entire territory. Because of an insuppressible slave rebellion in St. Domingue, modern day Haiti, among other reasons, Bonaparte's North American plans collapsed. To keep Louisiana out of British hands in an approaching war he sold it in April 1803 to the United States for $15 million. The size of the United States was doubled without going to war.
A foreign crisis loomed as warring Britain and France challenged U.S. neutrality and desire to trade with both nations. Jefferson's presupposition was that small neutral nations could benefit from the wars of the great powers. He distrusted both Napoleon and Great Britain, but saw Britain (with its great navy and position in Canada) as the more immediate threat to American interests. Therefore he and Madison took a generally pro-French position and used the embargo to hurt British trade. Both Britain and France infringed on U.S. maritime rights. The British infringed more and also impressed thousands of American sailors into the Royal Navy; France never did anything like impressment. President Jefferson signed the Embargo Act, which forbid all exports and imports. Designed to hurt the British, it hurt U.S. commerce far more. The destructive Embargo Act, which had brought U.S. trade to a standstill, was rescinded in 1809, although both Britain and France remained hostile to the United States. The War of 1812 was the logical extension of the embargo program as the United States declared war on Britain. However there was never any sense of being an ally of France and no effort was made to coordinate military activity.
France and Spain had not defined a boundary between Louisiana and neighboring territory retained by Spain, leaving this problem for the U.S. and Spain to sort out. The U.S. inherited the French claims to Texas, then in the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty traded these (and a little of the Mississippi drainage itself) in return for U.S. possession of Florida, where American settlers and the U.S. Army were already encroaching, and acquisition of Spain's weak claims to the Pacific Northwest. Before three more decades had passed, the U.S. had taken Texas as well.
In 1834, when Andrew Jackson demanded payment for property destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars, France severed diplomatic relations. After the incident subsided, modest cultural exchanges resumed, as in visits to the United States by Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America (1835).
In the 1840s Britain and France considered sponsoring continued independence of the Republic of Texas and blocking U.S. moves to obtain California. Balance of power considerations made Britain want to keep the western territories out of U.S. hands to limit U.S. power; in the end, France opposed such intervention in order to limit British power, the same reason for which France had sold Louisiana to the U.S. and earlier supported the American Revolution. Thus the great majority of the territorial growth of the continental U.S. was accomplished with French support.
During the American Civil War, 1861–65, France was neutral. However Napoleon III favored the seceding Southern states of the Confederacy, hoping to weaken the U.S., create a new ally in the Confederacy, and protect his large investment in controlling Mexico. France was too weak to declare war (which might cause Prussia to attack), and needed British support. The British were unwilling to go to war and nothing happened. Napoleon III took advantage of the war in 1863, when he installed Austrian archduke Maximilian of Habsburg on the throne in Mexico. The United States protested and refused to recognize the new government.
U.S. celebration of the anniversary of the Mexican victory over the French on Cinco de Mayo, 1862 started the following year and has continued up to the present. In 1865, the U.S. used increasing diplomatic pressure to persuade Napoleon III to end French support of Maximilian and to withdraw French troops from Mexico. When the French troops left the Mexicans executed the puppet emperor Maximilian.
The removal of Napoleon III in 1870 after his disastrous war with Prussia helped improve Franco-American relations. During the Siege of Paris, the small American population, led by the United States Minister to France Elihu B. Washburne, provided much medical, humanitarian, and diplomatic support to peoples of all nations, gaining much credit to the Americans.
In subsequent years the balance of power in the relationship shifted in favor of the United States. The U.S., rising to the status as a great power, came to overshadow France. All during this period the relationship remained firm—as symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, presented in 1884 as a gift to the United States from the French people. From 1870 until 1918, France was the only major republic in Europe, which endeared it to the United States. Many French people held the United States in high esteem, as a land of opportunity and as a source of modern ideas– a trend which lasted well into the 1950s until the mention of a "friendly colonisation of France" by the Eisenhower administration in 1956 (though few French people emigrated to the U.S.).
During the First World War, the United States was initially neutral but eventually entered the conflict in 1917 and provided much-needed funding for the French effort. In 1918 the U.S. sent over a million combat troops who played a major role in defeating the Germans. The American troops were even put in among the French lines rather than the British, due to the opinion that the French were more careful with their soldiers' lives.
In the peacemaking, however, though sharing major objectives, the two countries clashed over particulars. The burning ambition of French Premier Georges Clemenceau was to ensure the security of France in the future; his formula was restitution, reparations, and guarantees. Clemenceau had little confidence in what he considered to be the unrealistic and utopian principles of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, observing, "Even God was satisfied with Ten Commandments, but Wilson insists on fourteen" (a reference to Wilson's "Fourteen Points"). The two nations clashed on debts, reparations, and restraints on Germany.
Clemenceau was also determined that a buffer state consisting of the German territory west of the Rhine River should be established under the aegis of France. In the eyes of the U.S. and British representatives, such a crass violation of the principle of self-determination would only breed future wars, and a compromise was therefore offered Clemenceau, which he accepted. The territory in question was to be occupied by Allied troops for a period of five to fifteen years, and a zone extending fifty kilometers east of the Rhine was to be demilitarized.Wilson and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George agreed that the United States and Great Britain, by treaty, would guarantee France against German aggression. Republican leaders in Washington were willing to support a security treaty with France. It failed because Wilson insisted on linking it to the Versailles Treaty, which the Republicans would not accept without certain amendments Wilson refused to allow.
During the interwar years, the two nations remained friendly. Beginning in the 1920s, U.S. intellectuals, painters, writers, and tourists were drawn to French art, literature, philosophy, theatre, cinema, fashion, wines, and cuisine. A number of American artists, such as Josephine Baker, had successes in France. Paris was also quite welcoming to American jazz music and black artists in particular: France, contrary to a significant part of the U.S. at the time, had no racial discrimination laws. Numerous writers such as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and others were deeply influenced by their experiences of French life.
However, anti-Americanism came of age in the 1920s, as many French traditionalists were alarmed at the power of Hollywood and warned that America represented modernity, which in turn threatened traditional French values, customs and popular literature. The alarm of American influence escalated half a century later when Americans opened a $4 billion Disneyland Paris theme park in 1992. It attracted larger crowds than the Louvre, and soon it was said that the iconic American cartoon character Mickey Mouse had become more familiar than Asterix among French youth.
In 1928 the two nations were the chief sponsors of the Kellogg–Briand Pact which informally outlawed war. The pact, which was endorsed by most major nations, renounced the use of war, promoted peaceful settlement of disputes, and called for collective force to prevent aggression. Its provisions were incorporated into the UN Charter and other treaties and it became a stepping stone to a more activist American policy.
In the Second World War the U.S. again favored France over Nazi Germany. America's Lend Lease program gave away money and munitions until France fell to the Germans in spring 1940. Relations with the Vichy regime, officially neutral but widely seen as pro-German, were cool until 1942, and then ended abruptly as Vichy France became a Nazi puppet state. Relations were strained between Roosevelt and Charles De Gaulle (leader of the Free French). DeGaulle refused to participate in the Normandy landings in June 1944. After Normandy the Americans and the Allies knew it was only a matter of time before they had the Nazi. Eisenhower did give DeGaulle his word that Paris would be liberated by the French. The Americans, themselves, had no interest in Paris. It was a city that had no tactical interest and it would not be a sign of dominance if conquered. Therefore, easy for Eisenhower to let DeGaulle's FFI take the charge. There was one important aspect of Paris that did seem to matter to everyone: it was its historical and cultural significance. Hitler had given the order to bomb and burn Paris to the ground. He wanted to make it a second Stalingrad. The Americans and the Allies could not let this happen. The French 2nd armored division with Maj. Gen Phillipe Leclerc at its helm was granted this supreme task of liberating Paris.] General Leclerc was ecstatic at this thought because he wanted to wipe away the humiliation of the Vichy Government.
General George S Patton was at the command of the US third Army that swept across northern France. It campaigned in Lorrain for some time, but it was one of the least successful of Patton’s career. While in Lorrain, he annexed the Maj. Gen. Phillipe Leclerc’s battalion into his army. General Leclerc did not respect his American counter parts because like the Brits he thought that they were new to the war. Therefore, he thought the Americans didn’t know what they were doing on the field. After being more trouble than help Patton let Leclerc go for Paris. The French then went on to liberate Paris from the east while the 4th us infantry (they were originally part of Patton’s Army) came from the west. Because of Eisenhower’s deal with DeGaulle, the Liberation was left to the French’s 2nd armored division.</ref> · ] With DeGaulle becoming the head of state, the Americans and the English had no other choice, but to accept him. General Eisenhower even came to Paris to give DeGaulle his blessing.
In the postwar years, both cooperation and discord persisted. The debts left over from the First World War, whose payment had been suspended since 1931, was renegotiated in the Blum-Byrnes agreement of 1946. The U.S. forgave all $2.8 billion in debt, and gave France a new loan of $650 million. In return French negotiator Jean Monnet set out the French five-year plan for recovery and development.
The United States helped revive the French economy with the Marshall Plan whereby it gave France $2.3 billion with no repayment. The total of all American grants and credits to France, 1946–53, came to $4.9 billion.
In 1949 the two became a formal allies through the North Atlantic treaty, which set up the NATO military alliance. Though the United States openly disapproved of French efforts to regain control of colonies in Africa and Southeast Asia, it supported the French government in fighting the Communist uprising in French Indochina. However, in 1954, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower declined French requests for aerial strikes to relieve besieged French forces at Dien Bien Phu.
Both countries opposed the Soviet Union in Cold War confrontations but went through another crisis in 1956. When France, Britain, and Israel attacked Egypt, which had recently nationalized the Suez Canal and shown signs of warming relations with the Soviet Union and China, Eisenhower forced them to withdraw. By exposing their diminished international stature, the Suez Crisis had a profound impact on the UK and France: the UK subsequently aligned its Middle Eastern policy to that of the U.S. whereas France distanced itself from what it considered to be unreliable allies and sought its own path.
While occasional tensions surfaced between the governments, the French public, except for the Communists, generally had a good opinion of the United States throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. Despite some degree of cultural friction, the United States was seen as a benevolent giant, the land of modernity, and the French youth took a taste to American things such as chewing gum, Coca-Cola, and rock'n'roll.
After Charles de Gaulle became president he clashed with the U.S. over France's building of its own nuclear weapons (see: Force de frappe) and Britain's admission into the European Economic Community. These and other tensions led to de Gaulle's decision in 1966 to withdraw French forces from the integrated military structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and to expel NATO from its headquarters at Fontainebleau. De Gaulle's foreign policy was centered on an attempt to limit the power and influence of both superpowers, which would increase France's international prestige in relative terms. De Gaulle hoped to move France from being a follower of the United States to a leading First World power with a large following among certain non-aligned Third World countries. The nations de Gaulle considered potential participants in this grouping were those in France's traditional spheres of influence: Africa and the Middle East. The two nations differed over the waging of the Vietnam War, in part because French leaders were convinced that the United States could not win. The recent French experience with the Algerian War of Independence was that it was impossible, in the long run, for a democracy to impose by force a government over a foreign population without considerable manpower and probably the use of unacceptable methods such as torture. The French popular view of the United States worsened at the same period, as it came to be seen as an imperialist power.
Relations improved somewhat under de Gaulle's successors, but tensions reappeared intermittently. France, more strongly than any other nation, has seen the European Union as a method of counterbalancing American power, and thus works towards such ends as having the Euro challenge the preeminent position of the United States dollar in global trade and developing a European defense initiative as an alternative to NATO. Overall, the U.S. has much closer relations with the other large European powers, Great Britain, Germany and Italy. In the 1980s the two nations cooperated on some international matters but disagreed sharply on others, such as Operation El Dorado Canyon and the desirability of a reunified Germany. The Reagan administration did its best efforts to prevent France and other European countries from buying natural gas from Russia, through the construction of the Siberia-Europe pipeline. The European governments, including the French, were undeterred and the pipeline was finally built.
France under President François Mitterrand supported the 1991 Iraq Gulf War, as a major participant under Operation Daguet. The French Assemblee Nationale even took the "unprecedented decision" to place all French forces in the Gulf under United States command for the duration of the war.
France, along with other nations such as Germany, Belgium, China and Russia, opposed a proposed U.N. resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. During the run-up to the war, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin emerged as a prominent critic of the George W. Bush administration's Iraq policies. Despite the recurring rifts, the often ambivalent relationship remained formally intact. A few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Jacques Chirac – later known for his frosty relationship with Bush—had ordered the French secret services to collaborate closely with U.S. intelligence, and created Alliance Base in Paris, a joint-intelligence service center charged with enacting the Bush administration's War on Terror.
Public attempts in 2003 to boycott French goods in retaliation for perceived French "active hostility toward America" ultimately fizzled out, having had little impact. Nonetheless, the Iraq war, the attempted boycott, and anti-French sentiments routinely whipped up by American commentators and politicians bred increased suspicion of the United States among the French public in 2003, just as anti-war demonstrations, hostile treatment of American tourists in Europe, and the actions of the French government bred a similar level of increased distrust of France in the United States. By 2006, only one American in six considered France an ally of the United States.
Recently, relations between the two nations have begun to thaw. A Pew Global Attitudes survey in June 2006 revealed that 52% of Americans had a positive view of France, up from 46% in 2005. Other reports indicate Americans are moving not so much toward favorable views of France as toward ambivalence, and that views toward France have stabilized roughly on par with views toward Russia and China. However a 2012 Gallup poll shows Americans to have a 75% approval rating towards France.
Later on, following burning issues like Hezbollah's rise in Lebanon, Iran's nuclear program and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, George Bush urged Jacques Chirac and other world leaders to "stand up for peace" in the face of extremism during a meeting in New York on September 19, 2006. Strong French and American diplomatic cooperation at the United Nations played an important role in the Cedar Revolution, which saw the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. France and the United States also worked together (with some tensions) in crafting UN resolution 1701, intended to bring about a ceasefire in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict.
Political relations between France and the United States became friendlier after Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of France in 2007. Sarkozy, who has the nickname "Sarko the American", has said that he "love [s] America" and that he is "proud of his nickname". In 2007, Sarkozy delivered a speech before the U.S. Congress which was a strong affirmation of French-American friendship. During his visit he met with President George W. Bush as well as senators John McCain and Barack Obama. This visit took place before the two senators were chosen as party nominees.
Obama and McCain also met with Sarkozy in Paris after securing their respective nominations in 2008. After receiving Obama in July, Sarkozy was quoted saying "Obama? C'est mon copain", which means "Obama? He's my buddy." Because of their previous acquaintance, relations between the Sarkozy and Obama administrations were expected to be warm.
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