Furstenberg (History/Johns Hopkins Univ.; In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, 2007) expands the historical outlook of the 18th century’s great upheavals and shows the global effects of the Enlightenment.
The author studies five former members of the French Assemblée Constituante who became refugees in Philadelphia: Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Le Rochefoucauld, the duc de Liancourt; Louis-Marie Vicomte de Noailles; Moreau de Saint-Méry; and Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, Comte Volney. All of them helped rewrite the French constitution, a document with which the authors hoped to achieve the same results as the American Revolution. However, it was not to be, and the fallout from the French explosion was felt across the Atlantic. All five of the men were liberals, almost all aristocrats, and they were leaders with contacts in all the best houses and banks of Europe. Those connections helped save post-Revolutionary America, allowing the building of markets, forging of marriages and the funding of the Louisiana Purchase. These Frenchmen attached themselves to the best minds in America, implemented land purchases and found investors abroad, providing desperately needed credit to the new nation. In Saint Domingue, present-day Haiti, the world’s wealthiest colony and gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, the late-1800s slave revolts proved to be as world changing as events in France and the United States. The island was France’s steppingstone to re-establish a colony in the Mississippi Valley and control its vast natural resources. Furstenberg follows all five men throughout their time in the United States. Though they were here to escape and to advance their personal fortunes, along the way, they helped the young country survive. “[A]lthough the emigres did not make this new world,” writes the author, “their lives poke through the accumulated detritus that makes up the historical archive with greater clarity and sharpness than most.”
A bright, absorbing account of a short period in history that still resounds today.