Uruguay became an independent nation during the Peninsular War, a conflict between France and Spain. Uruguay was a Spanish territory by that time, as the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, and thus at war with France, but the war never left Europe and the Viceroyalty was never attacked directly by French armies. The French attack to Spain indirectly started the Uruguayan War of Independence, France recognized Uruguay as an independent nation by the end of 1830.
Nevertheless the French presence in Uruguay has always been strong. During the first half of the 19th century, Uruguay received most of French immigrants to South America. It constituted back then, the second receptor of French immigrants in the New World after the United States. Thus, while the United States received 195,971 French immigrants between 1820 and 1855, 13,922 Frenchmen, most of them from the Basque Country and Béarn, left for Uruguay between 1833 and 1842.
French influence has always been strong in Uruguayan culture. The secondary education and also the University of the Republic follow a French model.