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A Guide to the United States' History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: France

Summary

France is one of the oldest U.S. allies, dating to 1778 when the French monarchy recognized the independence of the United States. French military and economic assistance during the American War of Independence (1775-81) was crucial to the American victory. Since then, relations between the two countries have remained active, despite periods that have tested this long friendship. Modern Flag of FranceModern Flag of France

The French Revolution began in May 1789 and eventually overthrew the government of Louis XVI. In 1792 Thomas Jefferson stated that the U.S. should “acknowledge any Government to be rightful, which is formed by the will of nation, substantially declared.” This has been U.S. policy ever since. Consequently, formal diplomatic relations with France were not broken upon the constitution of new French governments after 1789 (the majority of which occurred during the nineteenth century). Each time this happened, the resident American diplomatic representative usually submitted new credentials to the appropriate authorities.

Today, relations between the United States and France are active and friendly. France and the United States share common values and have parallel policies on most political, economic, and security issues. Differences are discussed frankly and have not generally been allowed to impair the pattern of close cooperation that characterizes relations between the two countries.

Recognition

French Recognition of the Independence of the United States, 1778.

France recognized the United States as an independent state on February 6, 1778, when France’s Secretary of His Majesty’s Council of State, Conrad Alexandre Gérard, and American Commissioners Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee signed two treaties in Paris.

Consular Presence

First U.S. Consular Post Established in France, 1778.

The first U.S. consular post was established in Bordeaux, France in March 1778. It was closed in 1996 and re-opened in 2000.

Diplomatic Relations

Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, 1778.

Diplomatic relations were established on August 6, 1778, when Conrad Alexandre Gérard, presented to Congress his credentials as France’s Minister-Plenipotentiary and Consul-General. Benjamin Franklin was appointed as the first U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary to France on September 14, 1778, and was accredited by the French Government on March 23, 1779.

Establishment of American Diplomatic Mission in France, 1779.

An American diplomatic mission in Paris was first established on March 23, 1779, when Benjamin Franklin presented to the French court his letter of credence as Minister-Plenipotentiary.

Diplomatic Relations Interrupted, 1798.

In July 7, 1798, following the so-called “XYZ affair,” the U.S. Congress abrogated the treaties of 1778 and a pre-existing consular convention. The French, however, did not accept the abrogation as legally-binding until after the ratification of the 1800 Treaty of Friendship and Commerce.

Resumption of Diplomatic and Cultural Relations with France, 1801.

Following the outbreak of the Quasi-War, the U.S. and France signed a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce on September 30, 1800 (also known as the Treaty of Morfontaine), which was revised and then later ratified by both sides on July 31, 1801.

Elevation of American Legation to Embassy Status, 1893.

The American Legation in Paris was elevated to embassy status on April 8, 1893. James B. Eustis, who had served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary since March 20, 1893, was the first American Ambassador to France. He continued to serve as ambassador until recalled on May 24, 1897.

American Ambassador Separated from the French Government, 1940.

Germany invaded France on May 15, 1940, and as French resistance collapsed, the French Government left Paris on June 10 to make its way to Bordeaux. The American Ambassador, William C. Bullitt, remained in Paris to oversee the evacuation of American and British civilians, while the American Embassy staff followed the French government. U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull designated Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., on June 13 as Deputy Ambassador of the U.S. Government near the seat of the French Government, a role that he filled until June 24, when the Department directed him to leave France and resume his duties as Ambassador to the Polish Government in exile. Following the occupation of Bordeaux, the Embassy staff moved with the French government to the vicinity of Clermont-Ferrand, where Bullitt rejoined it on or about June 29, before departing on July 11.

American Embassy Moved to Vichy, 1940.

On June 16, 1940, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned in favor of Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, who requested terms for an armistice from Germany and oversaw France’s surrender on June 22, 1940. On July 10, 1940, the French Parliament met in Vichy and granted full and extraordinary powers to Marshal Pétain, including the power to write a new Constitution. The American Embassy relocated near the seat of the new Vichy regime in the summer of 1940. William D. Leahy presented his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the French Government in Vichy on January 8, 1941, a position he held until May 1, 1942.

Diplomatic Relations Severed by France, 1942.

Vichy France severed diplomatic relations with the United States on November 8, 1942, when Prime Minister Pierre Laval informed the U.S. Chargé in Vichy, S. Pinkney Tuck, of his government’s decision. This French decision followed the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa.

Limited U.S. Recognition of the French Committee of National Liberation, 1943.

On June 3, 1943, the French Committee of National Liberation (FCNL) was established in Algiers under the leadership of co-Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud. On August 24, 1943, President Roosevelt instructed Acting-Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle to forward a message to U.S. Minister Robert D. Murphy (Roosevelt’s personal representative in Algiers) that was to be distributed to members of the FCNL two days later. The message announced that the U.S. Government “recognizes the French Committee of National Liberation as administering those territories which acknowledge its authority.” The message, however, did “not constitute recognition of a government of France or of the French Empire by the Government of the United States,” but rather signified “recognition of the French Committee of National Liberation as functioning within specific limitations during the war,” after which “the people of France… will proceed in due course to select their own government and their own officials to administer it.”

U.S. Recognition of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, 1944.

On May 16, 1944, the Acting American Representative to the FCNL at Algiers, Selden Chapin, informed Secretary Hull that the FCNL’s Provisional Consultative Assembly had passed a unanimous resolution to the effect that the FCNL would now be referred to as the Provisional Government of the French Republic (PGFR). On October 19, 1944, Secretary Hull informed the American Representative to the FCNL, Jefferson Caffery, that the President had decided to recognize the PGFR as “the de facto authority established in Paris under the leadership of General De Gaulle, at the time of [the] announcement by the French of the creation of a zone of the interior.” On October 23, 1944, the Department of State issued a press release announcing the recognition of the PGFR by the U.S. Government, and that Caffery would assume the position of U.S. Ambassador to France. On the same day, in Paris, Caffery and representatives from the British, Soviet, and Canadian Governments called on French Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault. They provided him with letters extending diplomatic recognition from their Governments and Bidault reciprocated by acknowledging them as duly-accredited ambassadors to France.

Reopening of American Embassy in Paris, 1944.

Following the liberation of Paris at the end of the Summer of 1944, the American Embassy in Paris was reopened to the public on December 1, 1944. Jefferson Caffery was appointed Ambassador to France on November 25, 1944, and was in charge pending presentation of his letter of credence, which occurred on December 30, 1944.

Treaties and Agreements

Treaty of Amity and Commerce, 1778.

The first U.S. treaty to be signed was a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France that was signed in Paris on February 6, 1778.

Resources

  • Department of State Country Fact Sheet: France
  • Department of State Country Information: France
  • The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven, 1959-), XXVII

Resources

  • France in World Wide Diplomatic Archives Index