What does France have to do with the American nation—birthed 241 years ago today? Well, a lot, it turns out. France provided substantial aid to the American revolutionaries, mostly in the form of covertly-supplied weapons. French volunteers—including Pierre Charles L’Enfant and the Marquis de Lafayette—joined the American fighters and provided important counsel to General Washington. France also served as a European “big brother” to the fledgeling nation: a source of military advice, political/moral justification, and intellectual guidance from the day’s brightest lights in science, finance and diplomacy. And France officially recognized The United States as a sovereign nation in 1778.
Why did France care? Well, they hated the English. They had recently lost Canada to England and they had lost a lot of money pursuing the French-Indian War against the British. They wanted to inflict punishment on their foe and keep England’s power in-check back in Europe. But it was more than just that. The birth of the new American democracy struck a chord in the French populace—both intellectuals and the working man—who saw it as the manifestation of the new spirit of Enlightenment. Not to mention Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.
As we celebrate our great country’s birthday, perhaps it’s again time to observe (and learn from) our Gallic “big brother” who seems to be succeeding at shepherding their democracy into the Twenty-first Century.
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