Becoming American: Revolutionary Exiles and the Shaping of the Early American Republic

Doctoral Dissertation

Abstract

“Becoming American” is a social and cultural history of reform and revolution in the period following the American War of Independence.With a particular focus on the growing tension between calls for greater personal freedom and the continued existence of institutional slavery, I examine the experiences of a core group of reformers from France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom who were forced into exile in the United States.By considering how these exiles envisioned a better world through reforms—and how those plans changed after repeated failures—I investigate the boundaries of revolutionary projects around the Atlantic in this period.I trace these reformers from their hope-filled early days in Europe to the disastrous failure of their reform projects in order to assess their feelings of loss and deracination as they were cut off from their former lives.I then analyze their ‘Middle Passage’—and their own direct comparisons to slavery—as they transitioned from these losses to considering new hope in America.Finally, I demonstrate that a second disappointment led many of the exiles to reconsider their previous reform plans in America, and eventually accept compromise.

By asking how some of these exiles began their lives arguing for abolition, only to end up defending the South’s peculiar institution, my project challenges the idea that the coexistence of radical political ideologies and pro-slavery sentiments in the minds of individuals was an American phenomenon.Instead, I argue that changing conceptions of freedom and slavery among these exiles were actually the product of a larger, transatlantic struggle over definitions of community, nationhood, and the nature of revolution itself.I demonstrate that, as these exiles faced repeated failure to realize their dreams of reform, their conceptions of universal freedom contracted, often along national, sectional, and racial lines.While they struggled to adapt to their new lives, they came to terms with what it meant to be American—even if that meant accepting compromise and contradictions within American society.And, as they became American, these influential immigrants also helped shape American political culture, further cementing those contradictions rather than challenging them.

Attributes

Attribute NameValues
Author Erin Marie Kraus
Contributor Patrick Griffin, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Defense Date
  • 2016-10-24

Submission Date 2016-12-02
Subject
  • Atlantic World; Atlantic Revolutions; French Revolution; 1798 Rebellion; American Revolution; immigration; radicalism; political history; slavery; Early Republic

Language
  • English

Record Visibility and Access Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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