Cosmopolitan Patriots: Americans in Paris in the Age of Revolution (review)
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Cosmopolitan Patriots: Americans in Paris in the Age of Revolution. By Philipp Ziesche. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010. Pp. xv, 239. $39.50 cloth)

By focusing on the "parallels" between the French and American "republics' nation-building projects," Philipp Ziesche has written one of the most incisive and significant treatments of the American 1790s to appear in recent years (p. 11). Indeed, while the author's topic, Americans living in Paris during the French Revolutionary era, is rather narrow, Cosmopolitan Patriots nonetheless breaks new ground and reconceptualizes the development of the early United States. Too often framed in terms of a shift from messianic universalism to self-satisfied provincialism, the history of the new American republic instead owed much to the "symbiotic relationship between cosmopolitanism and nationalism" (p. 4).

In chapter one, Ziesche examines Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson's attempts to influence constitution-making in the early years of the French Revolution. Although Morris was appalled by what he considered French men and women's "romantic Ideas of Government," his conservative constitutional remedy—to constrain [End Page 89] the power of the wealthy by setting up a strong executive as an oppositional bulwark—revealed the way in which his notions were not only transatlantic but universalist (p. 24). "For Morris," Ziesche writes, "class conflict posed a fundamental challenge to constitution-makers anywhere, and the need to contain it was the common denominator between the United States in 1787 and France in 1789" (p. 29). Jefferson was much more enthusiastic about radical political renewal, but his thought nevertheless expressed a conservative "awareness . . . that no individual or society would ever be able to escape completely from the burden of the past" (p. 35). Chapter two deals with William Short and Thomas Jefferson's responses to French Revolutionary violence. The former, Jefferson's protégé, contended that the new republican regime in France was illegitimate, and he and his ally, the aforementioned Morris, used Burkean tropes of sensibility to depict the violence of the September Massacres. Jefferson, in contrast, equated Jacobin rule with the authentic French "nation," which meant that large-scale acts of violence were justifiable, albeit unfortunate, effusions of the people rather than inexplicable deeds of savagery.

In chapter three, Ziesche analyzes the ambivalences in Joel Barlow's concept of regeneration. Like radical revolutionaries in France, "Barlow claimed that in a republic the question of power would become irrelevant and its operations invisible" (p. 75). Yet the presence of domestic intransigents and militant opponents abroad supposedly necessitated a conscious political program—namely, governmental use of "the rod of correction" (p. 76). Chapter four turns to James Monroe's role as minister to France during the Thermidorian years, 1794-96. Convinced that Jacobin rule contributed to bloodshed and disorder, and convinced that the French and American republics still needed to stand together, Monroe advocated strong-government actions in France even as he sought to undermine like-minded policies pursued by the Federalist regime in the United States. Indeed, Ziesche writes, "as Monroe saw it . . . the achievement of universal [revolutionary] ends required the exact opposite means in each particular case" (p. 92).

In chapter five, the author examines Federalists' censure of [End Page 90] Democratic-Republicans' informal Parisian diplomacy in the years surrounding the XYZ Affair of 1798. Like the French Directory it tussled with repeatedly, the Adams administration characterized cosmopolitan Americans in Paris as greedy and traitorous. Yet by trumpeting these criticisms so persistently, Federalists inadvertently enabled "the Directory to play the two American parties off against each other, and to hand a public relations success to the Republican opposition" (p. 135). In the final chapter, Ziesche argues that Jefferson's efforts to dissociate the United States "from the French Revolution without repudiating the universal principles that had sustained the bond between the sister republics" ironically mirrored various actions taken by the Napoleonic Consulate (p. 137). In particular, Jefferson portrayed himself as a moderate, imposed a policy of "progressive preparation for self-government under executive leadership" for peoples deemed not yet ready for the blessings of liberty, and transferred universalist, individual-rights-oriented aspirations onto an expanding empire (p. 160).

A brief review cannot...