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France’s decision to support the American colonies in their struggle for independence was enormously important for the success of the outcome. French financial and military support, especially its naval support for the American revolutionaries and its deployment of military advisors for General Washington, were invaluable. By forcing England to essentially wage a two-front war, one against the colonialist militias, and the other against the French fleet, the importance of the French contribution cannot be overstated. France’s decision to formally ally itself with the American revolutionaries, and its alliances with Spain and the Netherlands, isolated Great Britain, and hastened the war’s resolution in America’s favor.
French motivations for assisting the Americans were not entirely altruistic. The history of French conflict with Britain was long and bitter. By facilitating Britain’s demise on the North American continent, France was advancing its own interests in a weakened British Crown. The depth of animosity between those two European powers cannot be overstated, and an opportunity to inflict a costly defeat on the British was a temptation the French could not pass up. While French national interest was certainly at stake, however, there were many French military officers who genuinely sympathized with the colonials and enlisted in the ranks of the Revolutionary Army for the purpose of fighting and, if necessary, dying alongside those fighting for freedom. The French Revolution that ran from 1787 to 1799, while many years from resolution, was inspired by the same anti-monarch sentiments that fueled the American revolutionary spirit. The French revolutionary passion that inspired the rallying cry of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death,” was not incompatible with the sentiments undergirding the American war for independence. In the French alliance with the American revolutionaries, therefore, there was a certain sense of kindred spirits.
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