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Hispanic American Historical Review 83.4 (2003) 777-778

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La France et les Amériques au temps de Jefferson et Miranda. Edited by Marcel Dorigny and Marie-Jeannie Rossignol. Collection Études Révolutionnaires, no. 1. Paris: Société des Études Robespierristes, 2001. Illustrations. Index. 173 pp. Paper.

The title of this collection is misleading. It should read: "Disillusion and Disappointments in the Postrevolutionary Atlantic World, 1790-1828." This is indeed "the time of Jefferson and Miranda," but the central theme of the collection is disillusion or unfulfilled dreams of three revolutionary movements—French, North American, and South American—with the Haitian Revolution hovering in the background. These are not synthetic or interpretive essays of the "Atlantic Revolution" à la Robert R. Palmer or Jacques Godechot. Instead, most of the essays are discrete narrative accounts—political biography based on personal correspondence, diplomatic history based on diplomatic dispatches and military tactics, and regional socioeconomic history based largely on secondary sources. Despite the heroic efforts of the editors, the essays do not adhere closely to the central theme of disillusion; each essay must be appreciated on its own merits.

Four of the essays treat political biography. Louis André Pichon, the French consul in Philadelphia from 1801 to 1804, had the unenviable task of retrieving the Franco-American Alliance from the indiscretions of Citizen Genêt in 1793. Pichon emerges as a subtle diplomat with no illusions about the depth of American Francophilia even on the part of President Jefferson. Countering Napoleon's plans for a new French empire in the Americas, Pichon advised Bonaparte to cede New Orleans to the young expanding republic. Pichon's pragmatic rationalism contrasts with two of the most committed utopians of the revolutionary generation—Thomas Paine and Abbé Grégoire. Paine's later years were indeed overfull with disillusion. The antireligion of his "Age of Reason" was not welcome either in Great Britain or the United States, and Paine never forgave President Washington for not intervening to release him from prison during the Terror in France. Paine pleaded for universal male suffrage when France and the United States both restricted suffrage to property owners and defended slavery. Abbé Grégoire, champion of Jewish and slave emancipation, retained his faith in the American republic as the last refuge from the corruption of Europe. Yet Grégoire was shocked by Jefferson's views on the inferiority of blacks in his "Notes on the State of Virginia." It is not surprising that Grégoire's death in the 1820s was mourned by all abolitionists from Boston to Haiti, but not by many others.

The essay on Brissot and Miranda in 1792 is only an episode, but it is an interesting one, which reveals how utopian dreams can easily lead to military expansion in the name of liberation. Francisco de Miranda exhibited a practical bent when he faced Jacques-Pierre Brissot's grandiose plan to use French troops, people of color from Saint-Domingue, and North American volunteers to launch a revolution in Latin America against Spain. Miranda was right to be skeptical. Within a year Brissot [End Page 777] was out of power, and Talleyrand, the new French foreign minister, proposed plans for dividing the Spanish Empire among France, Great Britain, Holland, and the United States. Miranda had not fought in the revolutionary French army to see the future nations of Latin America distributed among other foreign powers. South American independence would have to be achieved by South Americans.

Louisiana and Cuba are the subject of two essays that demonstrate how elites adapted to changing political and economic conditions. The enormous Louisiana territory rapidly changed sovereigns, moving from France to Spain in 1763, back to France in 1800, and finally to the United States in 1803. After 1799 a large number of people of color immigrated from Haiti, creating a three-caste society in the area around New Orleans—white, mulatto, and black slave. With the development of the sugar economy, the planters (older Franco-Creoles and the newer "Anglo-Saxons") formed a new elite; they imposed a...


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Archived 2004
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