Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes 1719-1787
Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes 1719-1787

Putting the Rev into the American Revolution

Vergennes was the French Foreign Minister from 1774 to his death in 1787.

Image Above
Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, Ministre d'Etat

Oil on canvas by unknown artist

Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Appointed as such by
King Louis XVI, Vergennes welcomed the opportunity to scheme against archrival Britain. This opportunity presented itself in form of the  American Revolution, which was fought 1775-1783.

Vergennes saw to it that money, military supplies, and eventually manpower reached the revolutionaries, aiding them in their struggle for independence from the British.

As it turned out, French support was crucial to the Colonists' victory.


Vergennes' Career: The Early Years — 1719-1749

Charles Gravier, count of Vergennes, was born on December 28, 1719, at Dijon, France. At the time, Louis XV was King of France (ruled 1715-1774).

He received basic education at a Jesuit school.

Vergennes' father was president of the parlement at Dijon. His great-uncle was the French ambassador Théodore Chevignard de Chavigny.

Wee Charles, too, chose a career as diplomat and politician.

1740 - Worked as his uncle's secretary at Lisbon.

1743 - Worked as his uncle's secretary at Frankfurt.

Vergennes was noticed by the Marquis d'Argenson, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time, and was sent to Treves (Trier) as ambassador.


Vergennes' Career: Gathering Momentum — 1750-1753

1750 - Ambassador to Trier

1752 - Ambassador to Hanover


Vergennes' Career: Making an Impact — 1754-1787

:: Ottoman Empire
1754-1768 - Ambassador to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire.

1756-1763 - Seven Years' War

1761 - Family Compact, Pacte de Famille, between France and Spain. Both countries were ruled by the House of Bourbon.

Vergennes' task was to provoke a war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Job accomplished. Back to Versailles.

1768-1774 - Russo-Turkish War

:: Sweden
1771-1774 - Ambassador to Sweden.

Here, in August 1772, Vergennes supported  King Gustav III's bloodless coup against parliament.

:: France
May 10, 1774 - King
Louis XV died and his grandson Louis-Auguste becomes  King Louis XVI.

June 6, 1774 - The new king appoints Vergennes as his Secrétaire d'État aux Affaires étrangères, or Foreign Minister. Vergennes will hold this position until his death.

1775-1783 -
 American Revolution

On May 2, 1776, Louis XVI decides to send arms and supplies worth one million livres to the American revolutionaries.

Thus, even before their Declaration of Independence, Vergennes was giving French aid to the American revolutionaries by sending weapons and, starting in May 1776, by sending money.

Turgot, French Controller General of Finances, was against this additional expense account. On May 12, 1776, and not unrelated to the difference of opinion at hand, Turgot was fired.


Anne Robert Jacques Turgot
© REGION LIMOUSIN. Service de l’inventaire et du patrimoine culturel.

July 4, 1776 - American
Declaration of Independence

December 1776 -
Benjamin Franklin came over for a visit. He received a huge welcome, but even the Big B couldn't persuade the French to officially commit to the cause of the American revolutionaries just yet. Emphasis on officially. Secret aid was not a problem.

Finally, on February 6, 1778, Vergennes concluded a formal alliance between France and the Colonists, recognizing the creation of the independent United States. In fact, two treaties were concluded on this day. One in case Britain and France went to war.

Who signed these treaties? Vergennes sent Secretary of State Conrad Alexandre Gérard to sign for France. For the Americans signed their Commissioners Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee.

In March 1778, the first U.S. consular post opened in Bordeaux, France.

France declared war on Great Britain on July 10, 1778.

:: Why did the French keep their support secret for two years?

For one thing, they waited for Spain to chime in, last but not least because of the Family Compact from 1761.

What family?

The Bourbon family. Charles III, who ruled as king of Spain 1759-1788, was the son of Philip V, born at Versailles in 1683. Philip V was the son of Louis, aka Le Grand Dauphin, who in turn was the son of a major gun, Louis XIV.

Back to the issue.

So, being herself an owner of many colonies, Spain naturally hesitated to officially endorse revolutionaries who were ready to shake off their colonist shackles.

And the other train of thought was that France wanted to be sure that the revolutionaries had enough oomph to see it through. If France put her name on the flags of the American revolutionaries and their revolt deflated, France would have a lot of mopping up to do in the foreign affairs department.

However, after American victories in the Battles of Saratoga in September and October 1777, also called the turning point in the American Revolution, France decided this horse would win. So they officially pledged allegiance.


July 3, 1778-1779 - War of the Bavarian Succession. Vergennes was for an alliance with Austria, but against Austria's annexation of Bavaria. At the same time, Vergennes was categorically against a French expansion into the Netherlands.

June 1779 - Spain joined France in the war against Britain. It took a while, but when it became clear that Britain refused to let go of Gibraltar, Spain was in.

April 1780 - A French army landed at Rhode Island. See also

July 1780 - League of Armed Neutrality.
Led by Russian's
 Catherine II, and joined by Denmark and Sweden against Britain's habit to search neutral vessels in the Baltic for contraband, or as some say, Britain's attempt to blockade other country's commerce with the American revolutionaries.

When the Dutch toyed with the idea of joining, Britain declared war, thus making them a country at war and disqualifying them from joining as a neutral nation:

December 20, 1780 - Britain declared war on the Dutch


May 1781 - French naval assistance was of the essence for the Americans. French Admiral François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse received orders to sail his fleet from the West Indies to Chesapeake Bay.

British Admiral Thomas Graves engaged on September 5, 1781. This was the  Battle of Virginia Capes. The French won and laid the foundation for the victory at the Siege of Yorktown in August-October 1781, which ended in Cornwallis' surrender on October 19, 1781.

This right here illustrated the crucial importance of French support in winning the American Revolution.

September 1783 - Already being Foreign Minister, Vergennes gets additionally appointed to President of the Council (Board) of Finance (Conseil des finances).

On September 3, 1783, Vergennes negotiated peace with Great Britain.

Wrapping up the American Revolution, he didn't try to gain territory in North America. Instead he secured Senegal, including Gorée Island in West Africa and Tobago and Saint Lucia in the West Indies, and an extension of fishing rights in Newfoundland. However, he couldn't secure French gains in India.

November 1783 -
Calonne becomes controller general of finances.

Vergennes was not a fan of Calonne, especially after Calonne succeeded in getting the Assembly of Notables on its way. Louis agreed end of November 1786 to assemble the Notables on January 29, 1787.

Vergennes joined forces with Armand Thomas Hue de Miromesnil, who was the Keeper of the Seals (Garde des Sceaux), and who also had been against Turgot back in the days. Together they plotted Calonne's downfall, who was dismissed in April 1787, a few months after Vergennes' death.

In September 1786, Vergennes concluded a commercial treaty with England. He wanted to make nice in order to prevent the war spreading onto the European continent.

When Austria and Russia designed to partition the Ottoman Empire, Vergennes was against it.


Vergennes died on February 13, 1787, at Versailles, France.



Messire C.G. Comte de Vergennes
Messire C.G. Comte de Vergennes
Colored engraving, 18th century
Bibliothèque Nationale de France



Were the French and the Americans Really Friends?

In the sense of two countries being joined by the same goal, absolutely. However, completely selfless? No such thing in politics.

The French would have had to fight Britain with or without American Revolution as a catalyst.

Another motivation was the prospect of future economic growth, one of the reasons why France didn't press for territorial gain in North America. Instead, and in the face of a persistently empty purse, it seemed more sensible to establish economic ties.

The Statue of Liberty, by the way, a symbol of friendship between France and the United States, wasn't dedicated until October 28, 1886.


Vergennes Trivia

The town of Vergennes in Vermont, established in 1788, was named in honor of Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes.

Vergennes - Vermont's Oldest City
Vergennes - Vermont's Oldest City
Vergennes City Council






More History


People in History A - Z


People in History by Group

Explorers, Scientists & Inventors

Musicians, Painters & Artists

Poets, Writers & Philosophers

Native Americans & The Wild West

First Ladies





Royal Families

Tribes & Peoples


King John of England 1167-1216


Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible 1530 - 1584


Adolf Hitler 1889 - 1945



Famous Speeches in History
Browse the speech archive:

Speeches by Topic A-Z

Speeches by Speaker A-Z

Speeches in Chronological Order

Speeches Given by Women

Speeches Given by African-Americans

Speeches Given by U.S. Presidents

Wars, Battles & Revolutions in History


Fall of the Bastille - July 14, 1789


American Timeline 1492-Today




The Divine Almanac - The Who's Who of Ancient Gods


Gilgamesh - His City, His People, His Epic


The Ancient Greeks in a Nutshell


All Things Nixon


Famous Animals in History


Greco-Persian Wars
Also called the Persian Wars, the Greco-Persian Wars were fought for almost half a century from 492 to 449 BC. Greece won against enormous odds. Here is more:

Battle of Marathon
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea



Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution

Check out the
Timelines of the Mexican Revolution

Mexico's transition from dictatorship to constitutional republic translated into ten messy years of skirmishing in Mexican history.

More from the Mexican Revolution:

Pancho Villa

Emiliano Zapata

Francisco I. Madero

Causes of the Mexican Revolution

Women in the Mexican Revolution

Summary of the Mexican Revolution



Online History Dictionary A - Z

Online History Dictionary A - Z



About Mata Hari


Attila the Hun
More about the greatest of all Barbarian rulers:

Attila short biography

Map of Attila's empire

Battle of the Catalaunian Plains

Who were the Huns?



Forms of Government


Historical Castles and Palaces
Historical Castles and Palaces



Ivan the Terrible
Was the man really all that dreadful?

More about Ivan IV, aka The Terrible


Joan of Arc in a Nutshell



Governments of Rome
Governments of Rome



French Revolution 1789–1799

Timelines of the French Revolution

French Revolution: Year 1789

French Revolution: Year 1790

French Revolution: Year 1791


French Revolutionary Wars 1792-1802

Timelines of the French Revolutionary Wars

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1792

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1793

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1794

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1795

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1796

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1797

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1798

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1799

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1800

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1801

French Revolutionary Wars: Year 1802



French Revolution - Its Causes, Its Victims, Its Effects


People in History

People in History A

People in History B

People in History Ca - Char

People in History Chas - Cz

People in History D

People in History E

People in History F

People in History G

People in History H

People in History I

People in History J - K

People in History L

People in History M

People in History N - O

People in History P - Q

People in History R

People in History S

People in History T

People in History U - Z

Explorers, Scientists & Inventors

Musicians, Painters & Artists

Poets, Writers & Philosophers

Native Americans & The Wild West

First Ladies





Royal Families

Tribes & Peoples


Wars, Battles & Revolutions

Wars & Revolutions A

Wars & Revolutions B - E

Wars & Revolutions F - G

Wars & Revolutions H - J

Wars & Revolutions K - O

Wars & Revolutions P - R

Wars & Revolutions S - Z

Wars & Revolutions Chronological

Battles A - C

Battles D - G

Battles H - L

Battles M - P

Battles Q - Z

Battles Ancient Times - 1499

Battles 1500 - 1699

Battles 1700 - 1799

Battles 1800 - 1899

Battles 1900 - Today


History Dictionary A - F

History Dictionary G - Z

Source Text - By Title

Source Text - By Author

Historic Documents A - K

Historic Documents L - Z

Historic Documents Chronological

Music in History

History Movies



Kids & History


About Us

Write Me



Sitemap 01   Sitemap 02   Sitemap 03    Sitemap 04   Sitemap 05   Sitemap 06  
Sitemap 07   Sitemap 08   Sitemap 09    Sitemap 10   Sitemap 11   Sitemap 12
Sitemap 13   Sitemap 14   Sitemap 15    Sitemap 16   Sitemap 17   Sitemap 18
Sitemap 19   Sitemap 20   Sitemap 21    Sitemap 22   Sitemap 23   Sitemap 24

Site Search













© 2016 Emerson Kent