When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation

When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation

Language: English

Pages: 512

ISBN: 0143127454

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“A bright, absorbing account of a short period in history that still resounds today.” —Kirkus Reviews

Beautifully written and brilliantly argued, When the United States Spoke French offers a fresh perspective on the tumultuous years of America as a young nation, when the Atlantic world’s first republican experiments were put to the test. It explores the country’s formative period from the viewpoint of five distinguished Frenchmen who took refuge in America after leaving their homes and families in France, crossing the Atlantic, and landing in Philadelphia. Through their stories, we see some of the most famous events of early American history in a new light—from the battles with Native Americans on the western frontier to the Haitian Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

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mince words. “Like Savages,” he wrote of the frontier settlers, they carried out depredations of all sorts against Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Creek peoples in the Southwest: they “scalp the Indians they kill, and carry their scalps in triumph.”14 Throughout the 1790s the trans-Appalachian West remained bitterly contested among Native Americans, the British and Spanish empires, and the new nation rising up along the coast. U.S. sovereignty barely stretched across the Appalachian Mountains. As

Franco-American cooperation than anything envisioned under the ancien régime; what is curious, at least in retrospect, is that it is precisely the ways in which his mission represented a rupture with monarchical French policy that got Genet in the most trouble in the republican United States. Genet had come not just to secure the U.S. alliance with France; he also came with a burning fervor to expand the republican project begun in 1776 and advanced in 1789, ready to light a fuse that extended

events beat to a different tempo, forming a contrapuntal rhythm to the tumultuous disruptions across the Atlantic world.54 In 1799 Ann Louisa Baring, Anne and William Bingham’s daughter, gave birth to her first child, William Bingham Baring. His father, Alexander, was still in Philadelphia managing the Barings’ growing financial and commercial ventures in the United States. If the Binghams’ first grandchild provided an occasion for rejoicing, no one celebrated the scandalous marriage the same

his blacks should succumb easily to their fate, the wave of French empire would roll on to Louisiana and sweep far up the Mississippi; if St. Domingo should resist, and succeed in resistance . . . America would be left to pursue her democratic destiny in peace.”64 The road to Louisiana ran through Saint Domingue—not just metaphorically but also geographically. By giving France control of the Windward Passage between Cuba and Saint Domingue, which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean

in 1789, where he sat with the liberal minority. He joined the great constitutional reforms, and rose to become president of the Assemblée constituante on July 18, 1789. In 1792 he fled to England—his cousin, the more famous duc de La Rochefoucauld-d’Enville, chose to stay in France, and died at the hands of Paris mobs that same year—where he remained until the British Aliens Act exiled him again. He arrived in Philadelphia in November 1794, at the age of forty-seven, deeply melancholic from his

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