Benjamin Franklin and the American Legacy in Paris


November 21, 2022
by John E. Happ Also by this Author


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France has an extraordinary way of commemorating the glorious past through landmarks and monuments. Benjamin Franklin had been an off and on resident of Paris living at 66 rue Raynouard, the former Hotel de Valentinoise, in Passy. He was recognized as the first official diplomat and Ambassador of the thirteen American colonies. There is a magnificent statue of the man located on the southwest corner of the Place du Trocadero, where one has an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower. The exact street where the monument is found has been, since 1791, called Rue Benjamin Franklin. When the statue was dedicated in 1906, a New York Times article declared that it represented “France’s unwavering friendship to the United States.”

Incredibly, the location of Franklin’s statue is called Le Square de Yorktown, commemorating the 1781 battle between the combined forces of George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette and the French General Rochambeau. The decisive defeat of the British and the capture of British General Cornwallis and his army forced the British to negotiate for peace, thus ending the American Revolutionary War.

This plaque on the Benjamin Franklin monument says, “the genius who freed America and spilled torrents of light into Europe; the sage two worlds claim as their own.” (Author)

Naturally, at the end of hostilities in 1781, Franklin was called upon, with John Jay and John Adams, to negotiate peace with Great Britain and settle outstanding differences among other world powers such as Spain, the Netherlands, and France itself. The peace conference began in Paris on June 25, 1783. The eventual agreement was finalized and signed on September 3, 1783 at the Hotel York, located at56 rue Jacob. With amazing foresight, one of the more noteworthy provisions secured by this treaty was the establishment of boundaries which allowed for America’s westward expansion.

A plaque recognizing the agreement’s signing is still found today at 56 rue Jacob, which is a lovely street near the Seine River, running between the National Academy of Medicine and the Universite’ Paris Cite’.

The inscription reads, “In this building, once the Hotel York, on the 3 of September 1783, David Hartley, in the name of the King of England, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Adams, in the name of the United States of America signed the Definitive Peace Treaty Recognizing the Independence of the United States.” (Author)

To commemorate the event, artist Benjamin West was commissioned to paint the men’s portrait. John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin were all duly rendered by the artist. British delegates Richard Oswald and Caleb Whitefoord were meant to be in the painting but, still smarting from the humiliating loss of their American colonies, they refused to pose for the artist and the painting was left unfinished.

“The Treaty of Paris” painting by Benjamin West, unfinished because the British delegates refused to show up. Courtesy of the Wintertur Museum, Delaware.


Bronze engraved rendering of the signing of the 1783 Paris Treaty formalizing American independence, on one side of the base of Franklin’s monument. (Author)

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