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Reviewed by:
  • Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It by Larrie D. Ferreiro
  • Sean P. Harvey, Lucia McMahon, and Sandra Moats (bio)

France, Spain, American Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, Declaration of Independence

Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It. By Larrie D. Ferreiro. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. Pp. 429. Cloth, $30.00.)

Larrie D. Ferreiro’s book, Brothers at Arms, offers a comprehensive examination of the role the French and Spanish played in assisting America in its war for independence. The strength of Ferreiro’s book lies in its attention to detail and its examination of the full range of personalities, deals, agreements, and battles that comprised the Bourbon countries’ connection to America. While this well-written book will appeal to general audiences, historians looking for new insights on the globalization of the American Revolution might want to look elsewhere.

The book’s opening chapter, “Not Just the Declaration of Independence, but also a Declaration that We Depend on France (and Spain, too),” introduces a provocative thesis. Ferreiro argues that the Declaration of Independence was not addressed to King George III or to the American colonists: “Instead, the Declaration was written as a call for help from France and Spain” (xvii). A few pages later, Ferreiro seems to have walked back from the singularity of this claim. First, he concedes that “France” or “Spain” never appear in the document, and that the final document addresses a wide array of issues such as natural rights, Enlightenment ideas, and the establishment of a new and independent state (xxiv–xxv). Clearly, Europe was one of the intended audiences for the Declaration: It is addressed to “a candid world,” and certainly the newly constituted United States would need “to contract alliances.” Similarly, Lee’s resolution on independence had called for “the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances” (xii). After starting his book [End Page 699] with an overly strong claim, Ferreiro largely abandons this argument and provides no replacement. Instead, he offers readers a comprehensive summary of France and Spain’s involvement in the American Revolution.

Ferreiro organizes his book into nine chapters: Half address the French and Spanish participants in the Revolution as merchants, ministers, soldiers, and sailors, while the remaining chapters deal with events on the war’s battlefields and at its negotiating tables. This book’s strength lies in its details, and along the way Ferreiro includes numerous stories and vignettes about the major events occurring in America, France, and Spain, as well as major players such as Lafayette, Rochambeau, Beaumarchais, Gardoqui, and Franklin. Ferreiro’s inclusion of portraits of the major French and Spanish participants humanizes and enlivens his accounts of their activities.

These chapters are well written and informative, if not particularly groundbreaking. Most historians of the early republic will be familiar with the issues surrounding the French–American alliance, including the delicate diplomatic negotiations, America’s need for wartime supplies and trained troops, and the joint French–American invasion that produced the Yorktown surrender. Ferreiro does a good job of showing how America’s struggle for independence became a globalized war for these European powers, with battles occurring in Europe (over Gibraltar), in the Caribbean, and in India, even after Yorktown.

The book’s subtitle, “the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It,” treats France and Spain as equal partners in the American Revolution. France had a formal treaty with the united American states, while Spain formed an alliance with France in 1779. Both countries, bound together by their “Bourbon Compact,” aided America because they wanted to weaken Great Britain and recalibrate the European balance of power. The Seven Years’ War/French and Indian War had strengthened Britain and had left Spain and France attenuated. While the French side of the diplomatic and military alliance will be familiar reading for historians of this period, Ferreiro’s examination of the lesser known Spanish role might have unearthed new scholarly ground. However, Spain’s much smaller involvement in the American war means there is less to discuss. When Spain engaged in battles against the British, its primary goal was...


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pp. 699-701
Launched on MUSE
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