There Would Be No United States Without France

Getty Images
Getty Images

When French diplomats signed the Treaty of Alliance in 1778, they in essence vouched for an experiment called the United States of America. At a cost of blood and money, the French made it their business to see it through, from a set of colonies to a free and independent nation. The centuries to follow have been sometimes (superficially) contentious, but it’s hard to see the relationship as anything but one of familial love. But to find out how this close-knit family came together, one has to look back to France’s involvement in the American Revolution.

SPIRITUAL FOREBEARS

Even in the 1770s, Paris was a very old city (to illustrate that point, the Notre-Dame Cathedral was over 600 years old at the time). If you were a would-be revolutionary looking to start a nation from scratch, France was the model, and Paris wasn’t just a city—it was capital of a civilization built to last.

The founding fathers of the United States were heavily influenced by the French Enlightenment. When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that governments derive powers from the “consent of the governed,” he was drawing from Rousseau’s The Social Contract (originally known as On the Social Contract). Montesquieu deeply influenced James Madison, author of the Constitution, and is one reason we have a separation of powers among three branches of government. Voltaire’s writings on censorship, meanwhile, helped enshrine the freedom of the press.

MAKING IT HAPPEN

Plainly stated, if France hadn’t supported the United States during the American Revolution, there wouldn’t be a United States today. George Washington was a great general, but the Continental Army simply didn’t have the money, men, training, or seafaring vessels necessary to defeat the British. At the war’s outset, France secretly provided to the Americans trained officers, money, ammunition, and gunpowder. This contributed directly to the staggering victory of the Continentals over the British at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Upon news of the British defeat, Louis XVI of France decided to go all-in. France signed the aforementioned Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and started sending serious firepower to the colonies. War with Britain was on.

It should be mentioned that France’s goals weren’t entirely pure. Thirteen years earlier, they had been defeated by the British in the French and Indian War and, as a result, suffered a staggering loss of territory in North America. (Notably, the massive debt accumulated by Great Britain because of that war caused it to raise taxes on the colonies, which led to the American Revolution.) Striking a blow to the hated British was too good of an opportunity for the French to pass up, and by supporting the Americans, they could essentially wage a much more devastating war in North America than before.

France’s initial, primary contribution to the war took place on the seas with their naval forces. Not every effort was successful. The Battle of Rhode Island proved an inauspicious opening operation for the new allies, and the Second Battle of Savannah wasn’t much better. But the American Revolution was a global war, and elsewhere the French scored several key victories over the British, including naval battles in the West Indies and at the Battle of Grand Turk. The French joined the fight in full on American soil in 1780, at which point their highly disciplined army under the command of Lieutenant General Comte de Rochambeau set as their goal the total defeat of the British.

The two decisive battles of the American Revolution were the Battle of the Chesapeake and the Battle of Yorktown. The first was a strategic naval victory by the French navy over the British. Comte de Grasse and Comte de Bougainville, the French admirals who led fleets of warships, effectively prevented the British navy from reinforcing forces at Yorktown. Meanwhile, Yorktown saw armies under the command of Washington, Rochambeau, and French Major General Marquis de Lafayette decisively overpower British forces. The surrender of Lord Cornwallis effectively marked the end of the war, with the major powers opening peace talks.

French blood helped secure American independence. In a very real way, the road toward America becoming a world superpower passed through the streets of Paris.

All images courtesy of Getty Images

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Remembering the Deadly London Beer Flood of 1814

London's Horseshoe Brewery
London's Horseshoe Brewery
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In the fall of 1814, one of history's most bizarre disasters befell London when a 15-foot wave of beer flooded an entire neighborhood and left eight people dead.

The Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road in London boasted a massive 22-foot-tall vat that held some 160,000 gallons of dark porter. On October 17, 1814, one of the metal hoops meant to secure it snapped, and the wooden vat succumbed to the immense pressure of all that fermenting brew. The gushing beer smashed open the brewery's other vats, resulting in a raging sea of beer that burst forth from the building.

Over 1 million liters of beer flooded out onto the road and raced through the St. Giles neighborhood. The area was crammed with crowded slums, and many inhabitants couldn't escape in time. According to The Independent: "Hannah Banfield, a little girl, was taking tea with her mother, Mary, at their house in New Street when the deluge hit. Both were swept away in the current, and perished."

Others who were gathered in a cellar for a wake were caught by surprise by the flood and drowned in beer. A wall of a nearby pub crumbled and crushed a 14-year-old girl who was standing next to it. In total, eight people perished in the accident.

Unsubstantiated rumors persist that rowdy locals brought pots and pans to the river of beer in an attempt to round up free drinks. In reality though, the citizens of St. Giles were lauded in the press for their help with the rescue efforts, keeping quiet in the aftermath in order to help listen for the screams of their trapped neighbors.

This story has been updated for 2020.