Monday, December 21, 2020

Jeff Horn's "The Making of a Terrorist"

Jeff Horn is Professor of History at Manhattan College. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Economic Development in Early Modern France: The Privilege of Liberty, 1650-1820.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Making of a Terrorist: Alexandre Rousselin and the French Revolution, and reported the following:
Chapter 4: Rehabilitation: Political, Literary, and Social, 1795-1815 begins on page 99 with quotes including:
Are you a liar or have you been lied to? Are you the agent of faction that persecutes anyone who honorably leads an army? Or are you simply the dupe of some rogues? Lazare Hoche to Jean-Nicolas Dufresne-Saint-Léon, 13 August 1797

What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon. Napoleon Bonaparte to the comte de Las Casas, 20 November 1816
The narrative opens by considering how Alexandre Rousselin, a dedicated Revolutionary activist and perpetrator of the Terror in two eastern French cities, escaped denunciation for being a “terrorist” and achieved a measure of political rehabilitation and literary success while building a family and becoming a noble.
At heart a patriot, Rousselin still intended a career in public service. But first he had to get out of jail and remake his reputation. With few exceptions, terrorists were no longer welcome in Revolutionary administration. Beginning soon after he returned from Troyes in early 1794, Rousselin spent much of the next two decades rehabilitating his reputation. His trajectory mirrored that of hundreds, if not thousands, of former missionaries of the republic who wanted a new start in French society.
Page 99 sets out many of the key themes of the second half of the book which trace the consequences of Rousselin’s Revolutionary activities and explore his attempts to either transcend or cover up his past. He successfully built a future that saw his children ensconced at the highest levels of French society thanks to his acquisition of a noble title and lucrative position as co-editor and publisher of Le Constitutionnel, the world’s best-selling newspaper for much of the 1820s.

These subjects are far less dramatic than the developments considered in the first three chapters. It is hard to compete with a chronicle of the extraordinary trajectory of a young Frenchman much influenced by the Enlightenment who became intimately engaged in the French Revolution for a succession of important Revolutionary figures including Camille Desmoulins and George-Jacques Danton. In the fall of 1793, he was sent by the Committee of Public Safety to bring Revolutionary fervor to Provins and Troyes to maintain public order and support the war effort. Only six months later, Rousselin was denounced by provincial notables who resisted the Terror and sent to face Revolutionary justice. Only a week after he escaped from the dreaded Revolutionary Tribunal with his head still firmly attached to his shoulders, Rousselin helped to build the coalition of different factions that staged the coup of 9-10 Thermidor.

Page 99 marks the transition from this phase of Rousselin’s life to explore his subsequent career as a public servant, literary endeavors including several noteworthy works of history, and intimate friendships with Madame de Staël, Benjamin Constant, Adolphe Thiers, and Paul Barras among a host of others. These activities have much to tell us about the period more generally but particularly about the process of rehabilitation across the Revolutionary era. Unlike so many who faced denunciation, Rousselin not only survived, but eventually thrived. His career providing insight into a large cohort that, much chastened, were forced to rethink their Revolutionary ideals from 1795 well into the nineteenth century. The second half of the book examines how and why a dedicated Revolutionary became a liberal.
Learn more about The Making of a Terrorist at the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue