HistoryAtState
The First French President to Formally Visit the United States

The first formal visit by the President of a French Republic to the United States was Vincent Auriol in Spring 1951. The trip sought to convince U.S. lawmakers and the public that France was steadily recovering from wartime destruction, thanks to Marshall Plan aid, and reinforce the Fourth Republic’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance.

President Auriol took daily English lessons to prepare for his visit because, according to the New York Times, he wanted to “speak at least a few words of English in each of the many talks he expects to make in the United States, notably in an address he will make before a joint session of Congress.”1 In March 1951, Auriol sailed for New York from Le Havre aboard the Ile de France with his wife, son, and Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister, among others.2 The French presidential party landed in New York then took a train to Washington D.C.’s Union Station on March 28.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Auriol made another notable “first” when he became the first French head of state to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress on April 2. He was also awarded the Legion of Merit, Degree of Chief-Commander, by President Harry Truman. Returning to New York on April 2, Auriol received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. On Wednesday, April 4, the Auriols visited Eleanor Roosevelt in Hyde Park, NY, and presented her with the Order of Commander of the Legion of Honor before sailing for France that evening.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

View the video retrospective of French presidential visits to the United States via France’s Institut National Audovisuel (INA).


  1. “Auriol Studying English,” New York Times, February 17, 1951, 3. 

  2. Harold Callender, “French President on Way to Visit U.S.,” New York Times, March 21, 1951, 21. 

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