The American victory at Saratoga was a major turning point in the war for Independence, heartening the supporters of independence and convincing France to enter in the war as an ally of the fledgling United States. It would be French military assistance that would keep the rebel cause from collapse and tip the balance at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781 – winning America its ultimate victory as a free and independent nation. The war also would reach to nearly every quarter of the globe as Spain and the Netherlands would become involved.
The French and Spanish helped not only by providing more troops to fight the British in the colonies, but also by engaging Britain in other parts of the world, such as India, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and Europe. Britain was now forced to fight battles all over the globe, instead of focusing its forces in one area. This made the conflict more costly and less winnable, as a result making Britain more willing to negotiate for peace.
The next evening, Burgoyne began withdrawing north. Halting at Saratoga and with his supplies exhausted, he called a council of war. While his officers favored fighting their way north, Burgoyne ultimately decided to open surrender negotiations with Gates. Though he initially demanded an unconditional surrender, Gates agreed to a treaty of convention whereby Burgoyne's men would be taken to Boston as prisoners and permitted to return to England on the condition that they not fight in North America again. On October 17, Burgoyne surrendered his remaining 5,791 men. The turning point of the war, the victory at Saratoga proved key in securing a treaty of alliance with France.
After the British won a string of victories at the beginning of the conflict, France began to believe that the colonists would not be able to achieve victory and that they were a lost cause. The strategically important victory as Saratoga, coupled with the capture of a British general, showed the French that the colonists could still win the war.
When Washington laid siege to British General Cornwallis' army at Yorktown, Virginia, in October 1781, he did so with a coalition force that included nearly 11,000 French troops. A French navy under Admiral De Grasse also blocked Cornwallis' seaborne escape routes. Cornwallis' surrender on October 19 signaled the effective end of the revolution.
Could the U.S. have secured its independence without France? Probably, but it would have taken much longer. Certainly, French involvement sped U.S. victory on the battlefield, and gave it its first diplomatic victory as well.
The victory at Yorktown would not have been possible without the French troops giving the colonists a numerical advantage. Without the French ships to cut of the British escape route, Cornwallis could have just retreated and continued fighting else where, leading to the war lasting longer and even possibly a British victory. If the French soldiers and ships where not involved at Yorktown, the Revolutionary War would not have ended there.
In December 1777 news reached France of the British surrender at Saratoga, a victory which convinced the French to make a full alliance with the revolutionaries and to enter the war with troops. On February 6th 1778 Franklin and two other American commissioners signed the Treaty of Alliance and a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France.
The American victory at Saratoga proved that the Continental Army could take on the British. This caused France to decide that military involvement would not end in disaster as previously believed. French diplomats acted on this change of views by signing military and economic aid agreements with the Americans.
Nowhere was the victory at Saratoga more noted than in France, which had been tentative in its efforts to assist the Americans. France's interest in the American fight for independence stemmed from France's humiliating defeat during the Seven Years War at the hands of its ancient enemy, England.
Franco-American Alliance, 1778
On February 6, 1778, the United States and France signed what was officially called the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. It contained several parts.
France recognized the United States as a legitimate, sovereign nation.
France and the United States formed a military alliance.
The U.S. would take possession of any land in North America it won from Britain, and France would take any islands in or near the Gulf of Mexico it was able to possess.
Other nations that were angry with England could join the alliance.
The U.S. and France would honor each others land claims.
The terms of this treaty are very important, since they are generous towards the Americans concerning claims to British territory and the guarantee that France would honor those claims. The clause about other nations joining the alliance would become important later on, when Spain would enter the war on the side of France and America.
Intriguingly, the French Foreign Office attempted to pin down “legitimate” reasons for France’s entry into the war, and found almost none. France couldn’t argue for the rights which the Americans claimed without damaging their own political position, and couldn’t claim to be a mediator between Britain and America after their own behaviour. Indeed, all the report could recommend was stressing disputes with Britain and avoiding discussion in favour of simply acting. (Mackesy, The War for America, p.161).
After years of spiralling tensions in Britain’s American colonies the American Revolutionary War began in 1775. The revolutionary colonists faced a war against one of the world’s major powers, one with an empire that spanned the globe. To help counter this, the Continental Congress created the ‘Secret Committee of Correspondence’ to publicise the aims and actions of the rebels in Europe, before drafting the ‘Model Treaty’ to guide negotiations of alliance with foreign powers. Once the Congress had declared independence in 1776, they sent a party including Benjamin Franklin to negotiate with Britain’s rival: France.
Until they declared independence in 1776, the colonists were fighting for their rights as British subjects, not for the full freedom of independence. After the decision was made to pursue independence, the colonists began actively looking for allies to help them fight the British. Many European nations were unhappy with Britain’s dominance, so it was believed that they could be persuaded to help the revolutionaries out of self-interest.
France initially sent agents to observe the war, organised secret supplies, and began preparations for war against Britain in support of the rebels. France might seem an odd choice for the revolutionaries to deal with. The nation was ruled by an absolutist monarch who was not sympathetic to claims of ‘no taxation without representation’, even if the plight of the colonists and their perceived fight against a domineering empire excited idealistic Frenchmen like the Marquis de Lafayette. France was also Catholic, and the colonies were Protestant.
France sent some aid at the start of the conflict and considered the option of openly supporting the colonists. However, the Continental Army suffered defeats early on, which lead to France reconsidering their support. The French were waiting for an opportunity to get back at Britain and they were unsure if the American Revolution would give them that.
"Almost immediately after the peace of 1763, it (the French Government) sought in the tendency of the English colonies to revolt against their mother country the occasion by which we would avenge ourselves upon England and tear up the treaty of Paris".