When the United States Spoke French (Hardcover)

Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation

By Francois Furstenberg

Penguin Press, 9781594204418, 498pp.

Publication Date: July 10, 2014

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (8/7/2014)
Paperback (6/30/2015)

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In 1789, as the French Revolution shook Europeto the core, the new United States was struggling forsurvival in the face of financial insolvency and bitterpolitical and regional divisions. When the United StatesSpoke French explores the republic's formative yearsfrom the viewpoint of a distinguished circle of fiveFrenchmen taking refuge in America. When theFrench Revolution broke out, these men had beenamong its leaders. They were liberal aristocrats andardent Anglophiles, convinced of the superiority ofthe British system of monarchy and constitution.They also idealized the new American republic, which seemed to them anembodiment of the Enlightenment ideals theycelebrated. But soon the Revolutionary movement got ahead of them, and they found themselves chased across the Atlantic.
Francois Furstenberg follows these fivemen Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Napoleon's future foreign minister; theoristreformerRochefoucauld, the duc de Liancourt;Louis-Marie Vicomte de Noailles; Moreau deSaint-Mery; and Constantin-Francois Chasseboeuf, Comte Volney as they left their homes andfamilies in France, crossed the Atlantic, and landedin Philadelphia then America's capital, its principalport, and by far its most cosmopolitan city and thehome of the wealthiest merchants and financiers.The book vividly reconstructs their Americanadventures, following along as they integratedthemselves into the city and its elite social networks, began speculating on backcountry lands, andeventually became enmeshed in Franco-Americandiplomacy. Through their stories, we see some ofthe most famous events of early American historyin a new light, from the diplomatic struggles of the1790s to the Haitian Revolution to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
By the end of this period, the United States was on its way to becoming a major global power. Through this smallcircle of men, we find new ways to understand theconnections between U.S. and world history, andgain fresh insight into American history's mostcritical era. Beautifully written and brilliantlyargued, When the United States Spoke French offers a freshperspective on the tumultuous years of the youngnation, when the first great republican experimentswere put to the test.
Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash Broadway musicalHamiltonhas sparked new interest in the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers. In addition to Alexander Hamilton, the production also features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr, Lafayette, and many more.

About the Author

Francois Furstenberg is an associate professorof history at Johns Hopkins University. A native ofBoston and Washington, D.C., he taught history forten years in Montreal before returning to the UnitedStates, where he teaches and writes on a range of fieldsin early American history and the Atlantic world. He isthe author of In the Name of the Father: Washington s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, published by PenguinPress in 2006."