Charles de VERGENNES
by Antoine-François Callet (1741-1823)
Executed ca. 1774 - 1787 (during the reign of Louis XVI of France).
Image cropped from an original oval portrait, oil on canvas, held at Palace of Versailles.

Charles Gravier, Comte de VERGENNES (1717- 1787)

As students of the American War for Independence come to recognize the global aspects of the war, they appreciate the remarkable part that the French Foreign Minister, the Comte de Vergennes, had in enabling the most critical deployments of French forces and provisioning of vital resources that ensured the victory of the American rebels. One of the best narrative describing Vergennes' action is posted at "THE DIPLOMACY OF VERGENNES". This is CHAPTER III from FRANCE IN THE REVOLUTION by James Breck Perkins.

A February 2012 commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the death of the Comte de Vergennes was conducted by the French Societies of the Sons of the American Revolution. The main event, "CONVOCATION VERGENNES" took place at Versailles, where Vergennes died on 13 February 1787. The theme of the program was to recognize Vergennes as the "French Father of the American Independence" for having "forged the crucial decisions which brought the Sovereign and the French Nation to side the American Patriots." The following is taken from the published announcement.

1. Who was Vergennes?

Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes was born at Dijon, (Burgundy) on December 28, 1719 and had a long diplomatic career (Trier, Constantinople, Sweden).
Among his deeds had been maintaining Turkey out of the Franco-British confrontation in the French and Indian war. Later encouraging the Ottoman Empire to combat Russian Catherine II attacking Poland.
He had assisted Gustav III's liberal coup in Sweden and further dedicated most of his efforts to maintain power balance in Northern Europe and gaining Russian neutrality.
Upon prime minister Maurepas' advice, young new King Louis XVI appointed Vergennes as his Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
After Lexington and Concord Vergennes dispatched Bonvouloir to the secret committee of correspondence at Philadelphia and upon the latter's report developed for the French King why France should bring to the rebels the support which would inevitably lead to an open conflict with imperialist Britain
He constantly put forward some of the most critical initiatives leading to the victory:
  • permitting Beaumarchais supply operations,
  • dispatching military engineers to the continental army even before La Fayette set sailed,
  • Gaining neutrality of Continental Europe nations
  • dragging Spain at France-s side
  • launching Rochambeau's and de Grasse's campaign leading to the Yorktown victory.
His passing away was deplored by the King as the loss of his best companion. Vergennes' anniversary is thus the occasion to commemorate in Versailles the sacrifices undertaken together and the perennial friendship which resulted.
2. Versailles, birthplace, jointly with Paris, of American Independence

It was on a Wednesday, 3 September 1783, that the final step in the path to peace and independence for America occurred in Versailles.
The great European war powers -- France, Spain and Great Britain -- finally signed the Treaties of Peace in which the British Crown recognized the independence of its former subjects.
The Count de Vergennes, Minister of Foreign Affairs for King Louis XVI, waited in order to have the treaties signed, for a messenger to confirm that, the same morning in Paris, the American and British delegates had truly signed the treaty whereby the British crown had just concluded with her former subjects the terms of her recognition of their independence.
The treaties were the final step of the conflict begun on April 19, 1775, with the battle of Lexington between the British colonist insurgents and the English armed forces. From Saratoga to Brandywine, from Valley Forge to Yorktown, the Revolution that had cost the country so much was over, and the Republic had begun.
Paris and Versailles are rich, not only in places where these agreements were negotiated and ratified, but also due to so many others who have played an important role in the history of America and the friendship of our two countries.
At the Palace of Versailles, King Louis XVI had greeted the American delegation of Silas Deane, Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee in March 1778. These were representatives of the American rebels with whom Vergennes had been working as early as 1776.
In front of the Palace, on the rue de l'Indépendance américaine, is the old Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the Count de Vergennes enacted a diplomatic strategy that held neutrality on one side and alliance on the other; the visits of the American Delegates followed.
3. Why, when, where, and how did Vergennes sponsor American Independence?

WHY? A preventive war against an aggressive competitor overseas. At the beginning of the French and Indian war, the British had captured by surprise 300 ships and jailed 6,000 sailors before the war had been declared.

WHERE? The challenge spread all over the World, with a common special concern about the rich trade with the West Indies.

WHEN? Involvement began as early as December 1775 and constantly increased until the Peace of 1783

HOW did it materialize? Through:

  • sacrifices of French soldiers and sailors;
    5,000 killed and 9,000 wounded in action; many more struck by epidemics
  • deployment worldwide of Royal field and naval armies;
    Over 100,000 combatants: 75,000 sailors at sea; 50,000 soldiers dispatched overseas;
  • gifts and loans from the Royal Treasury..

4. French decisions and actions (A chronology)

New England: (April 19) First shots are fired at Lexington and Concord.
London: (September 21) Beaumarchais writes to King Louis and Foreign Minister Vergennes: "the time has come for France to intervene".
Philadelphia: (December 18 and 27) Bonvouloir (as Vergennes' envoy) sounds out Franklin and Jay; he is told and reports that the Colonies will proclaim their independence and request military equipment and engineers.
Versailles: (March 12) Vergennes' "Considerations" depict to the King why he should support the rebels. After consulting his Council, Louis XVI adopts the suggested strategy (April 12 ). - Royal decisions are made to reinforce the Navy (April 22), to launch Beaumarchais' discreet operation supplying equipment to the U.S. (May 3), and send engineers. Congress' envoy Silas Deane meets Vergennes (July17) + Beaumarchais; Franklin, head of delegation, arrives in Paris (Dec. 20).
West Indies: (June 8) eight more infantry battalions are positioned by France in addition to four existing colonial regiments.
Versailles: (January 25) Du Portail is secretly commissioned by the King to train a US Engineers Corps. He leads the U.S. engineering effort throughout the war and makes the draft of the Military Academy.
Pasajes: (April 20) Under Count de Broglie's patronage, de Kalb and LaFayette embark for America. General DeKalb will be killed at Camden (1780), General La Fayette will serve throughout the war, promote in French opinion the American Independence and help bridging the cultural gap between the two populations.
Paris: (February 6) Amity and Alliance Treaties are signed between France and the US. Marquis de Bouillé captures Dominica (Sept 7).
Toulon: Admiral d'Estaing sails for the US with 12 ships-of-the-line and an ambassador (April 12).
Newport RI: Admiral d'Estaing's squadron engages British occupation forces.
Aranjuez: (April 12) France secures an alliance with Spain and plans at Spain's request a new allied armada to attack Great Britain's coasts.
Grenada: Admiral d'Estaing captures a decisive security upon British economy.
Philadelphia: Congress accepts France's proposal to send ground forces in America (September), in addition to 30 battalions positioned in her colonies.
Brest: (May 2) General Rochambeau's expeditionary corps embarks for America. Guichen's squadron is dispatched to operate in the Caribbean and Mexico Gulf.
Brest: Comte de Grasse's and Bailly de Suffren's squadrons sail (March 22).
Virginia: Victories at sea off Cape Charles (Sept. 9) and on land at Yorktown (Oct. 19); while Marquis de Bouillé recaptures St-Eustacius (Nov. 25).
West Indies (St-Kitts, Montserrat),
Minorca, India: new securities are captured; British Royal Navy is challenged all over the world by France and her Allies.
Paris: Independence is ratified by the British through peace treaties signed at
Versailles (September 3); 100,000 French soldiers and sailors have contributed to the war effort; 5,000 have been killed and 9,000 wounded in combat, many more lost their lives through disease or from longer-term effects of their wounds.

13 February 2012

Dignitaries assembled for proclamation ceremonies held in the former offices of the French Navy and Foreign Ministry departments, now the Versailles' Municipal Library; shown from left to right:
  • Admirall Chomel de Jarnieu, représenting the French Navy chief of staff.
  • Phillipe Gravier, Marquis de Vergennes, Vice President of the Society of Cincinnati in France.
  • Mark Taplin, the Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Paris.
  • Lee Swart, SAR Alabama, representing city of Vergennes, Vermont.
  • Jacques, comte de Trentinian, Vice President General (Europe), National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR).
  • Helie, duc de de Noailles, President of the SAR in France.
  • Emmanuelle de Crépy, Vice Major of Versailles.

Links to Related webpages: .

"Challenging Historical Clichés about French Participation in the American Revolutionary War "

"France in the Revolution"

"French Volunteers and Supporters Of the American Revolution"

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Page revised 16 April 2012.