French Spoliation Claims

Date: From 1793-XX-XX to 1835-XX-XX

French Spoliation Claims involved claims made by American citizens against the French Government for losses incurred from French confiscations and seizures of American ships and cargoes during three periods: the French Revolutionary Wars (1793-1797), the Quasi-War (1799-1800), and the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815). The Convention of 1800 settled the first two categories of claims, as the United States relinquished claims, amounting to $20 million, in exchange for its release from the 1778 treaty of alliance with France. Claims against France became claims against the United States, and between 1885 and 1925, the United States government settled most of the individual claims at a rate of twenty-five cents on the dollar.

More controversial and difficult to resolve were claims arising out of the Napoleonic Wars. The total amount of the claims from this period exceeded $12 million. Presidents Madison, Monroe, and Adams worked unsuccessfully to settle these claims. In 1829, Andrew Jackson appointed William C. Rives ambassador to France with instructions to press the French on the matter. Rives received a rejection in June 1830, but in July, revolution brought Louis Phillippe to the French throne, and he proved more amenable to compromise. A Franco-American commission decided that France would pay 25 million francs in settlement of the claims. In July 1831, Rives and the French concluded a treaty, which was proclaimed a year later.

Under terms of the treaty, France was to pay the claims in six installments beginning in 1833. When the United States presented a draft for the first payment, the French balked; the French Parliament had made no appropriation for payment. A heated controversy followed, and in 1836, the countries broke off diplomatic relations. Great Britain offered to mediate the dispute, and the French finally agreed to pay the four installments past due and paid the remainder when due. Fifteen hundred and sixty seven American claimants received money; the final settlement was at a rate of fifty-nine cents on the dollars, as the amount awarded by the special commission totaled $9,352,193, while the six installments from France plus interest totaled $5,558,108.

Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845 Volume III (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 201-10, 217-18, 274-75; Erik McKinley Eriksson, "French Spoliation Claims," Dictionary of American History rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976), 3:121-22.