Though the American Revolution was fought primarily between Americans and the British, other European nations also fought with the Americans. For the first few years of the war, European support for the Americans was limited. This changed during the latter half of the conflict, when France, Spain and the Dutch Republic all joined the Americans in war with the British.
Early American Diplomacy
Early in the American Revolution, the Continental Congress established the Secret Committee of Correspondence to create diplomatic relations with European nations. Established in November of 1775, the original committee included distinguished individuals like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin played an active role in communicating with a Spanish prince and Americanophiles in France in the interests of forging alliances with both countries. Communication had to be undertaken with great care to minimize the chances of British interception.
France's defeat to Britain in the Seven Years War motivated the country to join the Americans in their fight with Britain. In the early years of the war, France provided loans and other assistance through an American trader named Silas Deane. Once the Americans won a victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, however, France became convinced that the American cause was worthy. France and the Americans signed the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce on February 6, 1778, and France formally joined the war with the Americans.
De Facto Spanish Support
The French-American Treaty of Alliance contained a clause specifying that other countries could join the alliance, and that no nation would make a separate peace with Britain. Spain was initially wary of entering the war, because it feared that an independent U.S. would threaten its colonies in the Americas. In addition, Spain feared its support of a revolution would inadvertently inspire its own colonies to revolt. As a result, Spain did not officially ally with the Americans, but instead signed a treaty with France against Britain, and entered the war with the French on June 21, 1779.
The Dutch Republic
In the early years of the American Revolution, the Dutch Republic, also known as the United Provinces, provided weapons to the Americans. When France and Spain went to war with Britain, the Netherlands remained officially neutral. This meant that the British did not block their ports, and so Dutch ships could continue to export arms to the Americans. When Britain discovered this, Great Britain declared war on the Dutch in 1780. The Dutch were then effectively fighting the war on the American side.
- U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian: Secret Committee of Correspondence/Committee for Foreign Affairs, 1775-1777
- U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian: French Alliance, French Assistance, and European Diplomacy During the American Revolution, 1778-1782
- BBC: History: The American War of Independence: The Rebels and the Redcoats
- History: This Day in History: Spain Declares War Against Great Britain
- American Rifleman: Dutch Arms in the American Revolution
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images