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tv   French Influence on 1790s Philadelphia  CSPAN  May 8, 2016 7:43pm-8:01pm EDT

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[captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> with american history tv, it gives you that perspective. >> up next, johns hopkins university history professor francois fursenberg talks about five aristocrats that fled the french revolution in the early 1790's and settled in philadelphia. their influence and the relationships these men formed with political figures of the
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early republic. c-span's american history tv interviewed mr. furstenberg at the 20 16th annual meeting of american historians in providence, rhode island. this is about 15 minutes. >> francois fursternberg, your book focuses on five french aristocrats. who are they? prof. furstenberg: these were upper-level aristocrats. they descended from a highest level of the french nobility. all of them were liberals who had participated in the early stages of the french revolution. until it became too radical for them and were forced to flee the country. for the 5 that are focused, all who came to the united states, the most famous is one who later became the french foreign minister under napoleon. he spent a couple years in the united states. he had been an archbishop in the french church. he was the person that imposed the nationalization of church
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land. another figure was a duke who was lafayette's brother-in-law. he participated in the american revolution. he fought alongside lafayette and washington. he had gone back to france to lead some of the noble reforms. he presided over the constituent assembly on the night that it was a formally abolished in france. he was a charming guy. a wonderful dancer. he was supposed to be marie intranets --marie antoinette's dance partner. he charmed the women. there was a travel writer, an intellectual, and he later became a senator in france. he had written on egypt and on the middle east. he became an influential thinker under napoleon. another duke, one of the wealthiest aristocrats in old regime france. he had massive landholdings.
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he also participated in these reforms and the french revolution. he came to the u.s. and was sort of moody, sort of depressed. he wrote a lot, he went on these travels around the back countries. he wrote eight volumes on his travels. he kept a diary while in philadelphia, where he expresses his sadness about being exiled from france and from his family. 's wife was still in france. someone who -- the last was not an aristocrat, but had socialized with them and had it in in the constituent assembly. he came with his family. he opened a bookstore in philadelphia, which became a center of french social life and intellectual life in philadelphia. a kind of hub of this french world that emerged in the 1790's. host: did these men and no one another and come together, or did they come separately?
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prof. furstenberg: they had known one another. they had been political allies but came separately. they had different routes. one came through england. in fact, they had friends in england among the liberal nobility. they had planned to spend their time in england. but once they were exiled and england and france were at work, laws were passed to chase them out. they were forced to flee to the united states. other came directly to the united states. once they came here, they heard immediately about each other. they had a social life together. they forged this intimate community in french philadelphia, these aristocratic liberal refugees. host: about what time are they arriving in the u.s. then? prof. furstenberg: they came after the war between france and britain started. they came in 1792. 1792-1793. these were incredibly turbulent
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years. the french revolution was causing wars across europe. the u.s. was in a state of major political turmoil over the response to the french revolution. the jeffersonian party, which would become a democratic party, and what would eventually become the federalist party were forming precisely in response to the french revolution. or just in terms of popular opinion, those probably in support of -- those strongly in support and those strongly opposed to the french revolution. the major event was the haitian revolution, which started in 1791 and continuing in these years. this major uprising of slaves in the northern plantations, which eventually turned into a revolution against the institution of slavery itself.
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thousands of french, white and colored fled into the united states. there were people pouring into the west, french people pouring in during these years of the 1790's. host: so you said that the french revolution had become too radical for these men. what about what was happening in the french revolution? why do you call them refugees? or do they see themselves as white? prof. furstenberg: technically they were integrated that way. -- or do they see themselves that way? prof. furstenberg: technically they were emigrated. they viewed -- some were reactionary emigrees who fled, opposed to the french revolution. they were reactionary and wanted to reinstall the old regime.
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these were liberals. i think of them as centrist, but they were pro revolution. they wanted to install a constitutional monarchy based on english model. in similar ways, based on the american model with checks and balances. when the jacobins came to power, they were forced to flee. they would have been imprisoned or executed. one frenchman had to flee under threat of imprisonment. one's father was executed. there were periods of violence against aristocrats, who were seen as counterrevolutionaries. in a sense, this centrist vision had not held. the center had not held and the radicals had come to power and forced them out of the country. they were immigrants. they would have been executed at they returned to france. there was a list of official
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immigrants. when some of them left the united states, once napoleon came to power, more in a more emigree were welcome because they were not seen as the most reactionary kind. host: you refer to french philadelphia. was there a established community there? prof. furstenberg: to discover this wealth of community in philadelphia, this french community, there were thousands of people that fled and settled in philadelphia during the 1790's. there were people that came directly from france. this gave an entirely different aspect to the city. the city which has mostly been an old quaker city with important anglican elements.
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but dominated by anglophone, german elements. all of a sudden you had this influx of thousands of french people, catholic and colored. with completely different traditions and one which, completely different food culture,e tc. this is represented somewhere around 10% of the publishing. philadelphia is a small place at this time. -- 10% of the population. it is densely compact. you can walk from one side of the other two for littlefield in 15 minutes. i think of it like a current college campus. you will recognize faces as you walk through the street. all of a sudden somewhere between 5000 french arrived in philadelphia during this period. they changed the nature of the city. they opened bakeries bookshops, , they started printing french newspapers.
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there were french silversmiths, artisans of all kinds. the people catering to the philadelphia elite, the french dance instructors, language instructors, all kinds of things. the city became a much more cosmopolitan place, than it had ever been oriented towards french goods and commerce. host: when you say white and colored, you mean blacks? patients? -- haitians? prof. furstenberg: in haiti, there were generally consoled to be --generally considered to be 3 classes, those of color, whites, blacks, and mixed race. those were free and often had slaves themselves. some were quite wealthy. host: these aristocrats, did they make any prominent connections in philadelphia? americans like george washington, for example? prof. furstenberg: yeah, in
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philadelphia was the capital of the united states. we sometimes forget that. it was a major metropolis during this period. when they came, a were -- they were well-known figures. hamilton became a good friend of these figures. hamilton would spend long nights discussing politics and economics during this period. one was a close friend of jefferson, there is a published correspondence between them. they all admired washington. they all looked up to washington. in a sense as a kind of model of the leader that they had failed to become in france. this was the vision they had for france. washington had to be circle -- had to be more careful because he was the president, and these people were chased out of france. the french ambassador looked at them with great suspicion.
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he thought they were fomenting counterrevolution in philadelphia. he did not want washington socializing or meeting with them. i came across a note where washington passed and message along with his secretary, but he did not want to invite them to dinner because he had to worry about diplomatic consequences. host: was any lasting influence from the french on philadelphia? prof. furstenberg: yeah, it's a great question. in many ways, this incredibly rich and diverse community stayed after the 1790's. someone's back to french, someone back to haiti to re-inaugurate their plantations. others filtered away. there was an important legacy that was left both on the city, in terms of the cultural life, but also in terms of the kinds of connections that were forged between these figures and wealthy americans.
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many of them began not just socializing, but collaborating in land deals and economic deals. they became a way o funnelingf european capital into the united states. large amounts of money from the dutch and swiss investors, british investors -- they knew quite well from their own connections in europe begin investing in the united states. these led to some major land acquisitions in western new york, in maine, and ultimately, a talk about this in my book, the relationships forged in philadelphia helped to lead to the louisiana purchase. these french to bless, among others -- french diplomats, among others, a lookout to the west and at this former french territory as a possibility for a new french and power. --french empire. they informed napoleon back in france that this was a good
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idea. the financing of the louisiana purchase happened through the same personal networks and the same contacts that these people had been engaged in when buying land in the united states. in some sense they later the groundwork for -- they laid the groundwork for the louisiana purchase. french did not end up holding onto louisiana. there were some major legacies. host: so our five aristocrats end up in france again. why did they leave? prof. furstenberg: some came in different ways. some were more interested in learning about the country. but they all intended to go back to france. the only person who stayed, his father and wife was executed. he seemed to have given up hope
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at that point of returning to france. i don't get a sense of exactly why, what probably indebted. he was more connected with the philadelphia elite. -- he was probably embittered. when he went to the caribbean to to participate in the french attempts to reconquer haiti, to put the former slaves back into slavery, napoleon failed to reconquer haiti. and that frenchman died on that mission. he was the only one that never made it back to france. this is the tricky part about writing about people. some of them you spend years researching and you get charmed by them. he was a major disappointment to me, his life, on this mission to put people back into slavery.
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but all of them went back to france. some of them especially had the most distinguished careers and france. it was almost a kind of funny thing, because these people in a sense along to french history. -- belonged to french history. they have this moment where they appear in american history, which is my field, and it helps me think about american history and its connections between friends, the caribbean -- france, the caribbean and with other parts of the world. realizing that the solidity of these boundaries that we think of as much more fixed, to think about american history in this period is part of the larger french world. is an interesting exploration for me. host: francois furstenberg, thank you so much. >> interested in american history tv? schedule.coming atrican artifacts, c-span.org/history.
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