On this day in 1792 King Louis XVI was tried for treason in France, of which he was found guilty and guillotined in Jan of 1793. While perhaps better known as the husband of Marie Antoinette, King Louis has a rather important role in American history.
Throughout most of the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress assigned Benjamin Franklin as their ambassador in Paris. It was Franklin’s job to court the King Louis XVI to secure funding, weapons and supplies, and ultimately the assistance of the French military forces. Franklin accomplished all of this over his years in Paris, and while France declared war on Great Britain in 1778 it wasn’t until Yorktown that France became involved with ground troops and France’s formidable navy sailed into Chesapeake Bay which sealed Britain’s fate.
Ironically, France’s involvement had nothing to do with a newfound appreciation for the equality of man, and while it had much to do with their historical hatred of Britain, the fact remains that France became involved in the American war for independence out of a more pragmatic desire, economics. France’s economy was in the tank and it was hoped that assisting the American colonies achieve independence would secure favorable trade relations. However, rather than raising taxes the French took on international debt to finance the Americans and in the end this fiscal strategy failed miserably.
With France in a deep recession and the monarchy despised for it’s frivolous lifestyle, among other factors, the underclass revolted and the events that unfolded in the late 1780′s spelled the end of Louis XVI and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In an ironic twist of fate, it was the consequences of financing the American Revolution that created the conditions upon which the French Revolution were possible. Napoleon of course then proceeded to crown himself Emperor of France and King of Italy (Master of the Universe was unavailable) and in 1805 the Royal Navy decimated the French Navy at Trafalgar and in 1815 the British Army decisively defeated the French at Waterloo, which saw the expulsion of Napoleon and installment of King Louis XVIII, the brother of Louis XVI.