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Samuel Blaine

Professor Gienapp
History 400 Seminar
The Divides Created in America by the French Revolution
There have been many rebellions, wars, and revolutions in the recorded history of our
planet. The list goes on and on of countries, nations, and groups of people who either grow tired
of their current government or learn that better forms of government exist out in the world.
Websters dictionary defines a revolution as a forcible overthrow of a government or social
order in favor of a new system.1 The French Revolution, which lasted roughly a decade from
1789-1799, is one of the most widely discussed revolutions due to the global relationships the
French held. It impacted many nations in Europe as well as the young United States. This
revolution in France was an internal struggle against the absolute monarchy that existed, but it
evolved into an external series of wars that involved multiple nations.
The United States at this time was a fledgling nation that was set up on the ideals of
democracy, freedom, and just representation. It had just won its independence from Great Britain
in the American Revolutionary War only 13 years prior to France erupting in revolutionary
sparks. During the 1770s-1780s, while young America fought Britain to maintain its
independence, France sent money, troops, weapons, and other resources to aid America during its
time of need. France had been feuding with Britain off and on for some time and this was just
one of many attempts by France to take a shot at Britain. The revolution in France was at its start
widely supported by Americans, but much to the dismay of the French, they would not receive
the amount of support that the revolutionary parties in France expected.
1

Allee, John Gage. Webster's Dictionary. New York: Galahad, 1975. Print.

The 1790s were colorful and ever-important years for both America and France. Author
Gwynne Lewis says in his book, It took the Americans over seven years to create their republic:
it would take the French over seventy years before a republican system of government was able
to sustain itself for more than a few short years.2 The United States was in the process of
adjusting to its brand new Constitution, new government, and new leaders in the country. The
memory of the American Revolution was certainly still fresh in the minds of American and
French citizens alike. It is not much of a stretch to say that Americas Revolution was a building
block for a similar and yet equally different revolution in France. The proximity of time, the
dissent from monarchy, and the outcry for a democracy are all extremely similar to the revolution
that took place in America just over a decade before.
The revolution in France had global implications that affected many nations around the
globe. The French had been under the rule of monarchs for well over a thousand years. The
French Revolution was much more landlocked. Shortly after Americas success against Great
Britain in the 1770s 1780s, France certainly began to have positive ideas about democracy
and republicanism. With everything that was going on during the 1790s, especially the
revolution in France, Americas political leaders and its public opinion was quite divided over
the French Revolution. The French Revolution, its figures, and events aided in the formation of
two American political parties. There were many important figures and events that contributed to
the formation of these early American political parties; a few of them were George Washington,
John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Citizen Edmond-Charles
Gent, the guillotine massacres, and the French wars with Britain and Spain. These important
people and events pushed Americans to choose a side when it came to the Revolution in France.
2

Lewis, Gwynne. The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London: Routledge, 1993).

The two parties that were slowly and unknowingly being formed during the 1790s in
America would become known as the Federalist party and the Democratic-Republicans. The
Federalist party would become known for their backing of a large federal government, the U.S.
Constitution, and they did not want to aid France during the French Revolution. On the other
hand, the Demorcratic-Republican party would become known for its support of individual states
rights, a smaller federal government, and most wanted to support the Frenchs attempt to build a
democracy. As these two parties began to emerge in the U.S., the general population began to
build an opinion of the revolution in France.
During the year 1790, an American newspaper called the Virginia Gazette said, France
seems at present to be in a state of anarchy. The powers of that kingdom are fluctuating between
three orders. In this situation, it is totally uncertain what form of government will next prevail
But from the serious part which the women take in the revolution in France, a correspondent
judges that the French may be reduced to an absolute petticoat government.3 This newspaper
article was written early on in the French Revolution in January of 1790. The storming of the
Bastille, a symbolic French fortress in Paris, had happened only half a year earlier, and its true
that France was in a state of chaos. The writer of this article spoke about the revolution in France
with an element of uncertainty and fear. He categorizes the possible outcomes of Frances
revolution as either the King winning (monarchy), the rich elite class winning (aristocracy), or
the people winning (democracy/petticoat government). It is fascinating how concerned he was
that even if democracy took hold and was blossoming in France, the fact that women had the
potential to take part in the government was just too outlandish for him. He covered the phrase
petticoat government with contempt and lowliness. Out of the three options
3

Anonymous. Americas Historical Newspapers. Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advertiser. Vol. I Issue 25 Pg. 2

that this newspaper writer presented, it is fairly clear that he supported democracy over the other
two, but we also catch a glimpse of sexism in his writing that would carry on for many years to
come in American politics.
One thing that is interesting about this time period is that the U.S. founding fathers never
planned on creating two political parties. The American Constitution never mentioned any
partisan system. And yet this partisan system expanded and took root as the revolution in France
continued. The Democratic-Republican group of Americans often sympathized with the French,
and tried to argue for American action in France. While their opposition continued to generally
oppose what was happening in France. As these events took place, the rift continued to grow
wider in Americas political environment. Our first President, George Washington, found the idea
of political parties to be backwards, negative, and distrutful. Actually, most of our vital founding
fathers were verbally opposed to the idea of splitting into factions. That is, until they were
leading one or smack in the middle of one. James Reichley in his book The Life of the Parties: A
History of American Political Parties tells us Thomas Jefferson declared in1789 that
if he could not go to heaven but with a party, he would not go there at all. Alexander
Hamilton associated parties with ambition, avarice, and personal animosity. James Madison
wrote in Federalist Number Ten of the mischiefs of factions. John Adams expressed dread
toward division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and
concerting measures in opposition to each other.6 The founding fathers in theory did not like the
idea of political parties, at least at first. They might not have known it, but our first two
Presidents and the Secretary of State were forming the Federalist party. And by the time of
5

Anonymouos Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The American Spy Vol. I Issue. 25. Pg 2.
Reichley, James. The Life of the Parties: A History of American Political Parties. New York: Free, 1992. Print. 17.

Presidents and the Secretary of State were forming the Federalist party. And by the time of
Jeffersons election after the turn of the century, he would be at the head of the Republican party.
An important political figure and unclaimed Federalist during this time period was
George Washington. During the late 1780s and early 1790s the Federalists were becoming a
real political force. In relation to the revolution going on in France, George Washington had
some tough decisions ahead of him to make on Americas position. George Washingtons early
life impacted his political nature. He was born to a fairly wealthy land owning family in Colonial
Virginia. His parents were very influential to him in his childhood. From the book George
Washington by author John Abbott we can see, Augustine and Mary were married on the 6th of
March, 1730. They received to their arms their first-born child, to whom the name George was
given, on the 22nd of February, 1732.7 He became a great soldier early in life and before he knew
it he was chosen as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American
Revolution. Being the first President of the U.S., Washington had to set some important
precedents in office. The President had important decisions to make in regards to his foreign
policy. France would come calling to have the debt repaid in the form of aid against the British.

Abbott, John. George Washington:Life in America 100 Years Ago. New York: U Society, 1903. Print. 12.

In 1793, a Frenchman named Edmond Charles Citizen Genet was dispatched to America to be
a liaison and ambassador to the U.S. His goal was to gain Americas sympathy for the Revolution
in France and to convince America to send money, soldiers, and other resources to Frances aid.
But by this point, the Revolution in France had reached the point where it was no longer just an
internal rebellion against the monarch; it was now a full-fledged war with Britain. This was a
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tough decision for our first President in America to make. George Washington issued a document
in May of 1793 called the Proclamation of Neutrality. This document pretty much told the world
that the U.S. would not be assisting either side in the war between France and Great Britain. It
even specifically warned against any Americans assisting either side for the fear of legal
punishment. Washington and his political advisors felt this was the correct course of action
considering Citizen Genet had been enticing as many American men as possible to go join the
French cause. A newspaper from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published a letter written by
Ambassador Genet voicing his disappointment in the Presidents decisions, To you alone
through the Secretary of State have I complained of the principles that you have adopted and
demonstrated against decisions which have resulted therefrom.8 The more Federalist political
leaders such as Washington and Hamilton strongly felt that the U.S did not belong in the war
between France and Britain. The U.S. had only just fought for its own independence against
Britain and could not afford another war both financially or with lives.
Another important figure in the discussion about America and the French Revolution
would be the second President, John Adams. From From the book John Adams and the Founding
of the Republic we can see from author Richard Ryerson that, Adams was born in October of
1735 the son of a middle-class farm family in Braintree, Massachusetts, a moderate-sized New
8

Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal Issue 3616. Pg 2.

England town eight miles south of Boston.9 His family came from a long line of Puritans who
had been in America since the mid-1600s. As he grew up, he became fascinated with law and
politics. He was bright enough to attend Harvard and gain a degree in law. He was a practicing
lawyer for years and rose to popularity when he vehemently opposed the British Stamp Act

which ungraciously forced taxes on American colonialists. John served two terms as Vice
President under President Washington.
Adams too would certainly be placed along with the Federalist faction of the 1790s, even though
he might not have said to verbally for a while. Like his predecessor, President Adams supported
the French Revolution in theory, but could not condone such things like the use of the guillotines
in the Reign of Terror and the chaotic nature of the Revolution in France.
Unfortunately for President Adams, he did inherit certain problems that existed from the
previous Presidency. The conflict between France and Britain still raged on and now France was
more than upset with America. Britain also aggravated the American population as Adams took
over the Presidential office. Britain demanded globally that no one trade with France. France and
Americas relationship became strained at that point because of how large their trade relationship
was. Later towards the end of the 1790s a series of naval skirmishes actually took place between
the French and the U.S. This period of time was known as the Quasi-War between America and
France. At this point France was beginning to lash out at almost every major power there in the
world. One of the major successes of President John Adams one term in office was actually his
peace settlements between American and France. The public opinion in America of their second
President was sometimes mixed. A newspaper called the Impartial Journal wrote in defense of
9

Ryerson, Richard Alan. John Adams and the Founding of the Republic. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society,
2001. Print.

the President, That man who becomes a foe to President Adams, whenever he tries to reconcile
differences with a foreign enemy; I say, the man who finds fault with the President because he
conducts himself thus, is no friend to his country10 This excerpt shows us that the President
had those who supported his actions and decisions but also those who opposed him. He certainly
had supporters and most of the United States considered him a successful President. His run for a
second election was to be unsuccessful against one of his most central opponents, our third
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President Thomas Jefferson. But before moving to the Republican party, we will discuss one last
Federalist who impacted the nation in enormous ways.
Another person who would have to be discussed when considering the French Revolution
and Americas early political parties is Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton is considered to be the
leading Federalist proponent of the eighteenth century. We can see from the book The Basic
Ideas of Alexander Hamilton by author Richard Morris that, He was born somewhere around
1755-1757 on an island in the West Indies.11 Alexander was orphaned early in life and was
raised by wealthy men in the community who eventually sent him to college in America. He got
his big start around 1775 as the Revolution was heavily breaking out in colonial America. He
joined the rebellion and soon was appointed the senior aide to Commander-in-Chief George
Washington. He was sent by Washington to perform many important tasks during the Revolution.
Hamilton build upon his military career and became the United States first elected Secretary of
Treasury. He is responsible for many accomplishments during his political career such as the
creation of the national bank, our countrys economic system, he spearheaded the Federalist
party agenda, and he was a huge supporter of the U.S. Constitution. Hamilton is often viewed as
a controversial figure in our nations history because he impacted controversial events.
10

Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Impartial Journal Vol 2. Issue 9. Pg 1.
Morris, Richard. The Basic Ideas of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Pocket, 1957. Print.

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Hamilton greatly supported the Federalist agenda to have a strong central government led
by a commanding President who follows a Constitution. Many people at the time saw this figure
as a proponent and lover of monarchy. His desire to have a strong government with a leader
sounded a bit too much like that government of which the Americans had just freed themselves.
Secretary Hamilton is one of a few major men that solidified the creation of a two-party system
in America. In a newspaper called the Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advisor Alexander

Hamiltons report on his progress with the American tax situation is quoted, The state of things
in England is sometimes referred to as an example on this point.12 This quote sort of backs the
belief that Hamilton looked at England with admiration. Moments like these in his career would
add fire to his oppositions arsenals. His opposition would namely be third American President
Thomas Jefferson and later one of his central colleagues, James Madison, would flip viewpoints
to oppose Hamilton. Like many other Federalists, Hamilton favored Frances attempt at a
Republic, but detested the bloody nature of the Revolution in France.
America had many founding fathers that impacted our nations course for which it would
travel centuries after their deaths. The above mentioned founding fathers all leaned towards a
similar course that they wanted the United States to take. Washington, Adams, and Hamilton all
favored a strong, central government, while many of their opponents would not. These
Federalist leaning political leaders set precedents that would last in our nation for centuries to
come.
An important concept to understand is that as the French Revolution was taking place it
was not just creating one American political party but two. The Democratic-Republican party, or
Republican party, held a set of different opinions and feelings when it came to how our newborn
12

Americas Historical Newspapers. The Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advisor. Vol 2. Issue 77. Pg 1.

nation was supposed to be governed.


When thinking about the early Republican party of America the first major proponent that
must be mentioned is Thomas Jefferson. Before he was our nations third President, Jefferson
was a Virginia Congressman in the early 1780s, the U.S. Minister to France, the first U.S.
Secretary of State, and the second U.S. Vice President under John Adams. We can see from the
book Thomas Jefferson, A Life by author Willard Randall that, Thomas Jefferson was born in a
simple, one-and-a-half-story frame farmhouse in the middle of a horseshoe of outbuildings in a
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clearing on the edge of the Virginia wilderness on April 13, 1743.13 Likewise, We can learn
from Jerry Holmes book Thomas Jefferson: A Chronology of His Thoughts that Jefferson was
educated at an early age, From his father, Thomas literally learned reading, writing, and
arithmetic along with an appreciation of all that was offered by being surrounded by nature and
the wilderness.14 Jefferson would use this early developed intelligence towards many great
accomplishments during his political career. Thomas was a huge supporter of the Revolution in
France. Beginning in 1784, he spent several years in France as a U.S. minister to the monarchial
country. His mission while he was there in Europe was to secure trade agreements with France,
Spain, and former enemy Great Britain. His stay in France created in him a passion for the
French people, which would eventually lead to his position of support on the Revolution in
France. Jefferson was an extremely strong proponent of liberty and republicanism so he certainly
wanted the United States to support France in their time of revolution. In a newspaper called the
Amherst Village Messenger, we can view a letter written by Vice President Thomas Jefferson
13

Randall, Willard. Thomas Jefferson, A Life. New York: H. Holt, 1993. Print. Pg. 2.
Holmes, Jerry. Thomas Jefferson: A Chronology of His Thoughts. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Pg2

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that says, They [Federalists] would wrest from us that liberty which we have obtained by so
much labor and peril: but we will preserve it. It suffers that we arrest the progress of that system
of ingratitude and injustice towards France.15 Comments in the above 1797 article that follow
that letter from Jefferson suggest that France one hundred percent expected militant aid from the
United States. They go as far as to suggest that without Frances support of resources, the
American Revolution would have failed. Jefferson in this letter was describing to one of his
French supporting comrades that there were those people in the United States that would stand to
see France fail. This again shows division between early American politicians. I find it
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interesting how different Vice President Jefferson was from his superior President Adams.
Jefferson was much more progressive in regards to the Revolution in France than his predecessor
John Adams.
Another leader in the early Republican party that impacted the early division of American
political parties is James Madison. During the 1790s, Madison was a congressman early in his
political career, long before he would become the fifth Unites States Secretary of State or the
countries fourth President. From the book by author Sydney Gay James Madison: American
Statesman we can learn that, James Madison was born March 16, 1751, at Port Conway,
Virginia.16 He was educated by a European tutor and was an extremely intelligent young boy. As
he went to college, he realized he had a passion for speech and debate, as well as philosophy and
ethics. Madison is a unique figure in the world of our founding fathers. It is fairly commonly
known that he, like other politicians, changed political viewpoints later in life. Madison was
enormously centrifugal to the writing of several of the United States most important written
documents such as the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the Bill of Rights. James started
15

Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. Amherst Village Messenger. 5/20/1797 Vl. 2 Iss. 21 Pg. 1
Gay, Sydney. James Madison: American Statesman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917. Print. Pg. 1

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his political career as a member of the House of Representative before eventually becoming the
fifth United States Secretary of State and later the fourth President of the U.S. When writing the
Federalist papers alongside important figures such as John Jay and Alexander Hamilton,
Madison originally agreed with Hamilton about having a strong central government. In the early
1790s Madison would have a change of mind and favor stronger state governments. Madison,
while serving under President Jefferson had a large part in the purchase of the Louisiana
Territory. This land purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States. Madison, much like
Jefferson, sympathized with the French about the Revolution going on for the sake of democracy.
He felt that President Washington made a mistake when signing the Proclamation of Neutrality

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that made the U.S. neutral amongst those foreign affairs. He felt this position favored the British
cause, which to him was unacceptable.
Another thing that should be pointed out about the United States during the years of the
French Revolution is that the public was divided over the topic of the Revolution in France just
like our nations leaders were. In an article titled, The Progress of Freedom in the 1791
newspaper the Pennsylvania Journal, we see a supporter of Frances Revolution writing, They
are no longer satisfied with their present government they assemble in crowds, talk loud, and
make comparisons which are necessarily to the disadvantage of absolute despotism. The
government has caused severe ordinances to be published against all who, by speaking or acting,
shall disturb the public peace.17 This article shows me that this writer was excited about the
revolutionary crowds taking to the streets of France. In the rest of this article the writer goes on
to describe a story where a French Revolutionary in the street in the middle of a large crowd
begins to shout revolutionary praises such as, We will surely always be unhappy as long as we
17
Anonymous. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal. The Progress of Freedom. 3/23/1791.
Issue 2496. Pg. 2

leave the King with any power!18 In this article it seems that the revolutionary is almost idolized
or admired by the writer. This shows the side of public opinion in America that favors the
Revolution that was going on in France. This article would have been published before many of
the massacres would have begun happening. It will be interesting to see if American public
opinion changed after the guillotine was used more widely.
In another article published in the Poughkeepsie Journal of New York 1791, a series of
toasts were published in honor of the Revolution in France. Some of these celebratory toasts
said, "A speedy protection of the French Constitution- and liberty to the nations that DARE
contend for it. May the glorious example of France teach the Governments of the Earth
wisdom.19 These toasts in celebration of what was happening in the French Revolution again
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show us the support that many Americans felt for the people of France. Many wanted Frances
Revolution to have much success and to send a message to the world that democracy and
freedom were things worth fighting for. The quotes in these toasts tell us what the people were
feeling at the beginning of the French Revolution period. They were feeling that the world was
changing and that every nation would see the power and wonder of democracy and
representation.
In another newspaper from the year 1791, a certain New York newspaper called The
American Spy published a special commemoration article about what had so far happened in
France. The article says, We therefore, this day, choose to commemorate the French
Revolution, that the remembrance of this great event may sink deeply into our hearts; warmed,
not merely with the fellow feelings of townsmen, but with a sympathy which binds us to the
18

Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal. The Progress of Freedom.
3/23/1791. Issue 2496. Pg. 2
19
Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Poughkeepsie Journal. 9/29/1791. Issue 322. Pg. 1

human race in a brotherhood of interest, of duty, and of affection.20 I thought the wording in this
commemorative quote was quite interesting. The writer of this article spoke about the Revolution
in France with a very high regard for the French. This writer was very possibly a follower of
Jefferson and/or other Republicans of the times. The author uses the words human race and
brotherhood. This creates a sense of responsibility and warmth towards the French Revolution. It
makes the readers feel like their own family members are fighting a revolution across the ocean
in France. We know that in the early 1790s Americans were at time throwing parties and having
very festival gatherings in regards to the Revolution in France. Perhaps these last two quotes, the
toasts and the commemoration might have been from people who attended these parties and
gatherings. Again I want to bring up that these highly positive articles quite possibly favor the
Republican party over the Federalists. These articles are not even exempt from the reach of the
two party system that was being created in America.
In another unique article from an eighteenth century newspaper, the United States is
given a somewhat surprising amount of credit for the Revolution in France. A writer for the
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Poughkeepsie Journal of New York said, Americans may congratulate themselves as being in
some measure the authors of this Revolution in France, and as having made to that generous
nation the noblest of all compensations, by imparting to them a portion of the same divine spirit
of liberty, to which so many altars have been reared on this side of the Atlantic.21 The writer
suggests that the United States is responsible for sparking many ideas of liberty in the nation
France. In this quote the writer of this article praises liberty. He compares it to those things that
get set up on altars. I do not completely disagree with this writers argument that America had
quite a role in starting the Revolution in France. We certainly did not aid them after the
20

Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The American Spy. 11/4/1791 Issue 31. Pg. 2
Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Poughkeepsie Journal. 10/2/1790 Issue 270. Pg. 3

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revolution started, but teaching them about liberty and democracy is something I think the
United States was alright to claim back then.
In another article in the Pennsylvania Journal, a writer confirms that the revolution
happening in France is needed and he listed his desired outcomes for what might happen. This
writer said, A revolution in France seems to be an event almost inevitable. The minds of the
people are again in a state of fermentation, and ripe for any desperate enterprise. That thing will
revert into the old channel is impossible. Let us hope that from these convulsions a form of
government may arise, mild, firm, effective, and permanent.22 This writer sounds like many
Americans would have around this time period. The revolution that was happening in France was
still in its phase that was simply fighting for democracy. The language used in this article about
the French Revolution I thought was very intriguing. It seems that the writer was being almost
poetic in his/her description of the events in France. Again this writer could possibly favor the
Republican side of the rift that was growing politically in the United States, or he could possibly
even be a Federalist watching the French Revolution while still in its early yet mostly innocent
stages.

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Another article, also written in the Pennsylvania Journal, actually issues a warning to the
other monarchial countries within Europe. The writer said, The spark from the Altar of Liberty
in America, which has communicated its fire to France, had expanded its animating fervour.23
This writer of this article goes on to talk about how liberty will continue to spread even to Spain.
It is an article filled with much passion and emotion, and it really shows us how many Americans
were possibly feeling early on as the French Revolution took place. Again we can see the
22

Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal. 11/17/1790 Issue 2406. Pg. 2
Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspaper. The Pennsylvania Journal. 10/07/1789 Issue 2374. Pg. 2

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repeated idea from an American newspaper that the United States is responsible for sparking the
revolution that took place in France.
A New York writer praised the public of France for their actions in his article in the
Poughkeepsie Journal named Sacrifices. The writer said, To the public have been made in
France; which have surpassed in splendor the most celebrated feats of disinterested patriotism
that the world ever saw.24 This writer gives us a sense that people of France have made the
United States proud of their fight for liberty. The public of France have sacrificed something in
order to overthrow the monarchy that has hindered them for such a long time. I have often
wondered if the revolutionaries of France were considered patriots due to the fact that the way
they are rebelling against the King would have been considered treasonous. Maybe to their
revolutionary equal they would have been patriots, and to the monarchial supporters they would
have been traitors.
Early in the 1790s America was clearly very friendly with France and although the
United States did not aid France militarily, the public opinion of the U.S. favored what the
French people were doing. One way we see that there is that there was actually a large number of
immigrants accepted into the United States during the French Revolution. The writer of an article
from the Pennsylvania Journal in 1790 said that, The revolution in France has produced a very
extraordinary event that is, the emigration of a large number of the citizens of that kingdom to
the United Statesamong these are several persons who enjoyed titles of honor and distinction,

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and possessed large fortunes in that country.25 I thought this newspaper article was interesting
because it showed a passive way that the United States still supported France even after
President Washington passed the Proclamation of Neutrality. The act of accepting these
24

Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Poughkeepsie Journal. 12/22/1789 Issue 229. Pg. 2
Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal. 11/17/1790 Issue 2406. Pg. 3

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immigrants and refugees showed that America still passively wanted to support the Revolution in
France.
The young government of the United States made many decisions that led to the
neutrality that America held during the French Revolution. But the American government was
glad to assist France in the manner of offering advice on how to set up its new democratic
government once the King was overthrown. A writer for the Amherst Village Messenger
published an article that said, What difference, was there on that occasion and the present, when
the French have just adopted and organized a new government. Will it not be laid, that the robes
of royalty have charms with the senate?26 This quote from a newspaper article shows me that
United States government did play subtle roles in helping France begin to establish its new
government. The article continues on with a sense of excitement for the French people as they
plan the foundation of their new democratic government.
Certainly the thought of what was happening in France was not always a positive
thought. Many people saw the revolution in France as a negative event in the history of such a
profound nation. In one article from the Pennsylvania Journal, a writer describes a scene where
the guillotine was used. He said, A robber and assassin was this day to experience the fatal
effects of the new machine for the execution of criminals. He was securely bound in a horizontal
position a basket placed in order to receive his head. A blade heavy enough to severe the head
instantaneously was used between wooden boards.27 The writer continues on in this manner
describing the use of the guillotine. It seemed to me as though the writer was depicting the scene
in as detailed a manner as possible so as to show the grim effect of the guillotine. The mass use
of this machine of death caused many Americans to waver in their support of the French
16

26

Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Amherst Village Messenger. 1/26/1796 Issue. 4 Pg. 14
Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal. 8/1/1792 Issue. 3566 Pg. 3

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Revolution. The guillotine was used to execute thousands of Frenchman, mainly supporters of
the Crown, and the Americans largely just could not stomach the thought of it. The writer of this
newspaper article could be a Federalist leaning supporter in America and could be using this
grim depiction to show why America does not belong over in France helping them.
American public opinion on the revolution in France often saw the Revolution as
patriotic and democratic, which in theory is exactly what Americas Revolution was all about. In
practice though, the revolution in France was not happening exactly as the American one did.
The American Revolution had its fair amount of bloodshed. Multitudes of active American
military died due to disease, starvation, and battle during the American Revolutionary War. But
during the early stages of the French Revolution, much more bloodshed occurred. There was a
portion of the revolution in France where the revolutionaries used the guillotine as their weapon
of mass destruction. This phase of the revolution occurred in 1793-1794 and was called the
Reign of Terror. Many more people died by beheading during this phase of the rebellion against
monarchy. King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were two of many to die this way.
Beheadings like this were a cause for global anger and downright shock. An article from a New
Hampshire newspaper called The Phoenix tells us, ..from different parts of Europe, we have
accounts, that Louis XVI has been tried, condemned, and beheadedand that in consequence
with such an unjust step, England have declared WAR against them.4 The revolution in France
was simply getting way out of hand in the eyes of most of the world. In hindsight it seems that
France was overstepping what had originally been a revolution against monarchy and tyranny.
The revolution in France just kept growing, but not just growing, it was devolving into a chaotic
series of bloody executions and wasteful battles.

17

Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Phoenix.Vol. III Issue CXXXVI. Pg 3.

These acts of violence in France were a cause for major concern on the American front.
Some Americans, generally those who sided with the Federalist side, felt that at this point France
had lost its sight and turned into a land of chaos and anarchy. These Americans felt that the U.S.
should keep its hands clean of any revolution that would take on this violent nature. But many
Americans were sympathetic of the French, and felt that they were simply doing all they could
for the cause of democracy and representation. A line from the newspaper the American Spy in
1791 said, As men therefore, we think that the government is a trust for the use of the People.5
This line tells us that there were people who believed the government existed simply for the
betterment of the people. This was an American ideal from the very beginning of the nation.
There is no place for a government that has its own selfish agenda. The idea here is that the only
good government is one that serves its people and protects them.
Another important event in which public opinion was sometimes captured by the
newspapers was the wars that France started between many European nations. One writer for the
Pennsylvania Journal included a British letter amongst one of his articles that said, Should this
country now be plunged into a war with France and Spain, than which nothing seems a present
more likely, it is at least on our side, that we are a more united people than we were during the
American war, and may profit by guarding against that ill-conducted business.28 I found this
letter that was included in a national American newspaper to be important because I feel like it is
a way for the writer to express a fear that France is stirring up a war again that could potentially
and very possibly affect the United States. This article being published in America could be a
warning to the United States population to be wary of France, that they might want to involve us
in a global war. This trail of thinking is very much like those politicians of the Federalist party,
18

who warned against all attempts to aid France. Many people see this as a very intelligent move
on the part of the early American governmental leaders because the young American country
could have been drastically damaged by back to back wars with Great Britain. The Federalist
leaning politicians such as George Washington and his advisors were quite possibly very wise in
remaining neutral in the fight between France and the European powers.
In another article in the Pennsylvania Journal during the year 1792, a writer was accusing
a Spanish militant leader named the Count de Floridablanca of further instigating the war with
France. This Spaniard Floridablanca was said to have, been displaced for his very late, rigorous
28

Anonymous author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsyvania Journal. 11/3/1790 Issue. 2404 Pg. 2

measures to counteract the effect of the French Revolution in SpainHe had gone so far and so
directly violated the faith of subsisting treaties, as to make war with France almost inevitable.29
Again I find this article to interesting that American newspapers are so closely following the
foreign affairs between France and Spain. It is as if this newspaper writer in Pennsylvania is
trying to protect American lives and interests by writing an article about the fishy business going
on between these two European powerhouses. The wars between France and several of the
European powers is exactly why the Federalist party did not want to aid France in their
revolution.
Another article that was written in November of 1792 depicts a scene in the community
of Paris. This article titled The Proclamation of the Community of Paris from the Pennsylvania
Journal depicts a rallying cry from the people of Paris to go and aid the French Army. It says,
Citizens, the enemy is at the gates of Paris. Verdun, which detains them, can only hold out eight
days. The citizens who defend it have sworn to die rather than surrender it; they will make a
rampart of their bodies to you. It is your duty to fly to their assistance. Citizens, march instantly
beneath your colors; go to meet us at the Camp de Mars, that an army of fifty thousand men may
be immediately formed. Let us go and expire under the blows of our enemies, or exterminate

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them by our own.30 I think the writer of this newspaper article included this scene which had
happened in Paris for a reason. The writer seems to be showing his audience the level of
desperation that the people of France have succumbed to in order to win their Revolutionary
Wars. As men died in the French Army citizens were called on in order to fill their ranks and
keep the battle and cause raging on. The writer of this article could have been using this story to
____________________________________________________________________________________
29

Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal. 6/6/1792. Issue 3558. Pg. 3
Anonymous Author. Americas Historical Newspapers. The Pennsylvania Journal 11/7/1792. Issue. 3577 Pg. 1

30

perhaps show that France needed American help, but I actually think the opposite might have
been taking place. This writer was showing the bloody and desperate nature that the French
Revolution had taken on.
We can see that the 1790s hugely impacted countries like the United States, France, and
many others. Revolution in France brought out good and bad things from many of those
countries. This decade affected not only the history of these countries that we learn about today
but the futures of each one of them. We know that the 1790s had many events and figures that
decided the fate of things like the French Revolutions outcome and the eventual creation of two
American political parties. After examining many sources like newspapers and books both from
the actual time period of the 1790s and more modern secondary sources I hope that it is apparent
and conclusive that the French Revolution did aid in the subtle creation of two American
political parties. The Revolution in France was clearly a divisive event for both Americans and
spectators around the world. When studying and discussing the beginnings of the first two
American political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, I believe it is
imperative to consider that the French Revolution had a part in dividing the nation of America
and its political leaders in halves. I also think it is imperative to discuss the leading minds that
impacted the split into political parties such as George Washington, John Adams, Alexander

20

Hamilton, Citizen Genet, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. This list of men is just a
handful of the figures that helped America become a two party nation over two centuries ago.
The French Revolution was a dividing event in the American political also by the events
discussed above such as the Reign of Terror and wars with European nations that the French
initiated. The French Revolutions part in developing the two party system in America would
leave its impact on our political system for the rest of American history. When considering the
global impact, what is possibly even more significant is the enormous impact that the
revolutionary years in France would have on the rest of the planet.

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