Sunday, November 11, 2018

Benjamin Franklin Sails to France, Oct. 26, 1776

From Politico:
On this day in 1776, one month to the day after the Continental Congress named him ambassador to the court of King Louis XVI, Benjamin Franklin, at age 70, set sail from Philadelphia for Paris with the mission of helping to negotiate a formal alliance between France and the rebellious British colonies in North America. Scientific and literary circles feted the accomplished colonial envoy. He learned to speak French, albeit haltingly, soon becoming a familiar and popular fixture in high Parisian society. He declined, however, to wear a powdered wig, unlike nearly all the aristocrats with whom he associated.

As the Encyclopedia Britannica noted, Franklin violated protocol by dressing “in a simple brown-and-white linen suit and wore a fur cap, no wig, and no sword to the court of Versailles, the most formal and elaborate court in all of Europe. And the French aristocracy and court loved it, caught up as they were with the idea of America. ... His face appeared everywhere — on medallions, on snuffboxes, on candy boxes, in rings, in statues, in prints; women even did their hair à la Franklin.”
Franklin’s diplomatic successes, however, were slower in coming. Although the French had been secretly aiding the American rebels, providing them with military supplies since the outbreak of the revolution, they balked at signing a formal allegiance with the patriots until an American victory over the British crown became more assured. It was not until the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777 that French policymakers sensed the Americans might in time defeat their powerful foe and win the war. (Read more.)

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