A lot of my friends have little respect for the French and through the years have made their position well known. Some argue adamantly that the French gave up way too early during WWII, others say it was Charles de Gaulle during the 1960s, as he obnoxiously stressed the greatness of France that upset many Americans. I’ve heard some argue it’s because France sort of went it’s own direction in regard to NATO, and wasn’t a full ally like many Americans were hoping to see. Or the fact France didn’t allow U.S. planes to fly over French air space when Reagan bombed Libya. I could go on and on about reasons many of our U.S. military families have animosity towards the French, but there are a few very important things the French have done to help America that we should never forget. Below is a bit about French history and small bit about how the French have helped the U.S. (Sources: Origins, Wikipedia, History.com)

French History: Today is the French version of America’s Independence Day, “Bastille Day”. The holiday is officially called “la Fête nationale” and commemorates the fall of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a fortress prison in Paris used by King Louis XVI, and had become a symbol of the monarchy’s tyrannical rule. An angry crowd gathered around the Bastille on the morning of the 14th, demanding its surrender. The governor of the fortress at first refused. When the crowd pushed in, violence broke out and the angry crowd became an enraged mob. When the fortress commander saw that his situation was hopeless, he raised a white flag of surrender. By the time it was over, the people of Paris had freed the seven prisoners held in the Bastille and taken the governor captive. Almost one hundred protestors and eight prison guards were killed. Later, the governor and three of his officers would be killed and then beheaded by an infuriated crowd, their heads paraded through the streets atop pikes. Below are some facts about how the French Revolution is relevant to America’s own history and some other bits of interesting trivia​.​

American Revolution: History shows the French spent roughly 1.3 billion livres directly supporting American troops as we tried to earn our independence in the American Revolution. This created a ton of tension and unrest in France as they​ ​were battling extremely tough economic conditions caused by the lavish spending by King Louis XVI​. It actually pushed the French into​ an extreme financial crisis. Reports also show that this was a huge amount of money, perhaps more than a third of the entire French gross national product at the time. France also spent additional money fighting Britain on land and sea outside of the U.S. It was actually in the Battle of Yorktown, on October 19, 1781, after 21 days of fighting, the British troops, led by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis, surrendered their weapons to the American revolutionary forces, led by General George Washington, and to the French troops under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau. It is also thought that by the French taking our side, the British were forced to leave a lot of weaponry and men at home on their shores. The British naval force, at that time the largest fleet afloat, and the French fleet confronted each other from the beginning. The British avoided intercepting a French fleet that left Toulon under the comte d’Estaing in April for North America, fearing the French fleet at Brest might then be used to launch an invasion of Britain. Many historians believe the British feared if they focused all of their efforts and attention on America, it could leave the door at home open to the French. 

Lafayette’s Military Bravery – A young 19 year old from France named Marquis de Lafayette helped turn the tide in the American Revolution. Lafayette’s first battle was at Brandywine on September 11, 1777. The British commanding general, General Sir William Howe, planned to take Philadelphia by moving troops south by ship to Chesapeake Bay (rather than the heavily defended Delaware Bay) and bringing them overland to the rebel capital. After the British outflanked the Americans, Washington sent Lafayette to join General John Sullivan. Upon his arrival, Lafayette went with the Third Pennsylvania Brigade, under Brigadier Thomas Conway, and attempted to rally the unit to face the attack. The British and Hessian forces continued to advance with their superior forces, and Lafayette was shot in the leg. During the American retreat, Lafayette rallied the troops, allowing a more orderly pullback before being treated for his wound. After the battle, Washington cited him for “bravery and military ardour” and recommended him for the command of a division in a letter to Congress, which was hastily evacuating, as the British took Philadelphia later that month. Lafayette returned to the battlefield as soon as he could and received command of the division previously led by Major General Adam Stephen. He assisted General Nathanael Greene in reconnaissance of British positions in New Jersey; then with just 300 soldiers, he defeated a massively superior British force on November 24 1777. Lafayette stayed at Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777–78, and shared the hardship of his troops. I should also note that Lafayette also wrote many times and traveled back to France to seek more money and more military help for America. All of which later proved to be of extreme importance.

Spread of Democracy: More than any other event of the eighteenth century, the French Revolution changed the face of modern politics across Europe by introducing democratic ideals. It became a model of revolutionary political change that was followed throughout the world from Europe, to Haiti, Latin America, Russia, and East Asia. After the revolution began, no European kings, nobles, or other privileged groups could ever again take their powers for granted or ignore the ideals of liberty and equality.

Shaping Of America’s Own Democracy: American political debate over the nature of the French Revolution exacerbated pre-existing political divisions and resulted in the alignment of the political elite along pro-French and pro-British lines – the Democratic-Republican party who supported the revolution and the Federalist Party who wanted to maintain a good trade relationship with Britain. When the other European powers went to war with France in 1793, however, both parties agreed that taking sides would lead to economic devastation and potential invasion for the country. The United States in the end issued a proclamation of neutrality. Disagreements over the move’s Constitutionality, as well as possible violations of existing treaties, eventually led the Neutrality Act of 1794, which makes it illegal for an American to wage war against any country at peace with the United States. It also led to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These laws collectively raised the residency requirement for citizenship, gave the president the power to deport aliens considered dangerous and male citizens of hostile nations.

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The Eiffel Tower is illuminated during the traditional Bastille Day fireworks display in Paris July 14, 2013. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes (FRANCE – Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL CITYSCAPE ANNIVERSARY)