The Corner

Our Friends The French?

On the Tapped blogsite, Matthew Yglesias has worked himself into a little snit over a comment I made on Friday about the French–and in particular, my contention that Franco-American relations have been something other than sweetness and light. “Wasn’t France our ally during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812?” he asks. One hardly knows where to begin, except to say that Mr. Yglesias would do himself a big favor by reading chapters 2 and 5 of my book Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France. With respect to the Revolutionary War: Yes, the French were allies for a few years, though their motives were far from pure and their behavior less than exemplary. We’ve all heard about Lafayette–a great friend of America–but few people know the story of how the treacherous French backstabbed their American “allies” during the peace talks that secured American independence. Let’s just say that the United States is a big country today because the French didn’t get their way in 1783. And as for the War of 1812: No, the French weren’t our allies. In fact, the War of 1812 was very nearly fought against them. Because French naval attacks on American shipping were actually worse than British depredations, President James Madison gave seriously thought to asking for a declaration of war against France. When such a proposal came before the Senate, it was rejected by a narrow vote of 18 to 14. The bottom line is that this nonsense about France being America’s “oldest ally” is a myth that serves French interests–but not American ones.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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