When the Bastille fell in 1789, many observers concluded that France had joined the United States in the attempt to become an enlightened republic. Ever since, eyewitnesses—and then historians—have sought to explain the complex connections between these revolutions. Scholarship falls into two general camps: authors who compare the revolutions' trajectories and achievements; and those who are interested in impact, how each country influenced the other. Both approaches are central to narratives of the early United States, affecting interpretations of nationalism, political life, and the economy, among other issues.
For all that we know about these "sister republics," Philipp Ziesche's Cosmopolitan Patriots and Doina Pasca Harsanyi's Lessons from America remind us how much remains underexplored. These works shed new [End Page 746] light on the relationship between France and the United States in the 1790s, and they do so through the purview of migrants. Ziesche focuses on elite Americans who were drawn to Paris for ideological and economic reasons, while Harsanyi considers French nobles who found themselves on the wrong side of revolution and ended up in temporary exile in Philadelphia. For both historians, these emigrants offer an advantageous perspective because of their dislocation. Although the motivation for each group's move differed (one was voluntary, the other not), marginality in their host nations led them to reflect, with keen insight, on what the United States could learn from France and vice versa. Their experiences, the authors argue, show us how some influential men made sense of the reverberations of revolutions.
Philipp Ziesche's Americans in Paris are familiar faces, including Thomas Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Paine, Joel Barlow, and James Monroe. For Ziesche's purposes, what's most important about these "patriots" is their cosmopolitanism—their belief that all men were "fellow citizens of the world," united by a common set of values that elided national, religious, linguistic, and other differences (6). This notion encouraged them to travel to Paris in the 1790s, thinking that they, armed with republican know-how, could be useful to their French counterparts in the translation of universal ideals into practice. But the project of creating republican nations was, to a certain extent, at odds with cosmopolitanism, since nations, it was believed, reflected the mores and manners unique to a population and place. Ziesche points out, however, that individual national projects always looked elsewhere for instruction, and they derived legitimacy, in part, from official recognition by other nations. Universalism was an inescapable component of nationalism.
The "cosmopolitan patriots" were well aware of the tension between the particular and the universal in the making of republican nations, and their wrestling with this dynamic in the French context influenced their vision for the United States. Each chapter explores an aspect of this problem through one or more individuals, all the while progressing chronologically through the decade. Ziesche begins with Thomas Jefferson and Gouverneur Morris and their impressions of the new French constitution of 1789, and he then considers the divergent stances of William Short and Jefferson on the Jacobins and revolutionary violence. The third chapter centers on Joel Barlow, his hopes for "regenerating" the French populace through sensibility, and his subsequent inability to understand the Terror, while in the fourth chapter, Ziesche uses James [End Page 747] Monroe to evaluate changing ideas of popular sovereignty in Thermidorian Paris and Federalist America. The book concludes with a look at the anticosmopolitan backlash triggered by the XYZ Affair and the Quasi War, and with an exploration of how, after the election of 1800, the Jefferson administration transferred its cosmopolitan designs from France to Louisiana.
This brief overview fails to do justice to the careful analysis that characterizes every chapter. Ziesche braids together, with great sensitivity, French and American political developments, and, more often than not, he locates ironic and provocative twists: Jefferson and Morris clung to Montesquieu more than...