DIPLOMACY: Figaro in Disguise

When Congress appointed an envoy earlier this year to negotiate for badly needed French arms, it did not know that the task was already nearly completed—by the French themselves. The man behind the move: French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. his agent extraordinary: Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, author of the popular comedy, The Barber of Seville. Together, they have been maneuvering for well over a year to win greater support for the American Patriots.

Both Vergennes and Beaumarchais have faced the steady opposition of the new monarch, Louis XVI,...