Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Philipp Ziesche's "Cosmopolitan Patriots"

Philipp Ziesche is Assistant Editor of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin at Yale University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cosmopolitan Patriots: Americans in Paris in the Age of Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Cosmopolitan Patriots covers an incident, which encapsulates the predicament of the book's protagonists: Americans in revolutionary Paris, who were trying to export American political principles and practices to the "sister republic" and/or explain events in France to an American audience.

Beginning with the convening of the Estates General in 1789 and ending with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the book follows Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Joel Barlow, and others as they grappled with the contradiction between their belief that America offered a universal model for other nations to emulate and their conviction that each nation had to develop according to its own particular manners and customs. (A paradox that has vexed Americans for the past two hundred years.)

The page falls within chapter 4, which focuses on James Monroe, the future fifth president, who between 1794 and 1796 served as the American minister in Paris.

Monroe, a well-known sympathizer of the French Revolution, arrived in Paris two weeks after the downfall of Robespierre. The Terror had provided conservatives in the United States with ammunition to attack both the French republic and its American supporters. In order to prevent the French disorders from further compromising his own party in America (the Republicans who had formed in opposition to the reigning Federalists), Monroe denounced the Jacobins and applauded the repressive policies of the French government for restoring law and order. Monroe genuinely believed that in France the government had to restrain the people, whereas in America the people had to curb the power of the federal government. The achievement of universal republican ends required the exact opposite means in each particular case. However, Monroe's paradoxical strategy backfired when his Federalist superiors published his dispatches to justify their own attacks on popular political societies that they regarded as French-inspired, Republican-sponsored factions. As I explain on page 99, Federalists like Fisher Ames "savored the irony of Monroe's inadvertent support for the government's censure of opposition parties. He hoped that more papers would reprint the letter and reveal its author, as 'it would greatly assist the antidote, to know that it was sent from one who had swallowed the poison and was cured. Strange, that Monroe should warn us against Jacobins! So the world turns round.'"
Read more about Cosmopolitan Patriots at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue