Foreign Influence: Thomas Jefferson and the Thinkers of the French Revolutionary Era
Schroeppel, Steven James
FOREIGN INFLUENCE: THOMAS JEFFERSONAND THE THINKERS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY ERASteven James Schroeppel, A.L.M.M.A.L.S. Mentor: James Hershman, Ph.D.ABSTRACTThe American Revolution of 1776 and French Revolution of 1789 have long been associated with each other, both by historians and popularly. The two events resulted from highly similar causes: they were the responses of two enraged populaces to the overbearing, unjust, and oppressive rule of their respective governments. The two also similarly grew out of the body of recent socio-political thinking that had arisen during the Age of Enlightenment, spurred by thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau, Bacon, Hobbes, and Descartes, centered largely around newly developed political precepts including equality of persons, sovereignty of the populace rather than the monarch, representative government, and fundamental human rights. Rather than merely being largely independent manifestations of that collection of politico-philosophical thought, the two movements substantially were directly connected in a number of significant ways. One of the primary and most significant direct links was provided by Thomas Jefferson.Jefferson's central role and immense contribution to the American effort is, of course, axiomatic; his contributions to and influence on the proceedings in France, while far less well recognized and remembered popularly, were substantive nonetheless. Jefferson was neither the cause nor the catalyst for the eruption of events in France, but his words and actions provided considerable influence in the shaping of that process, in ways both direct and indirect. Jefferson's writings prior to and during the American movement, particularly the Declaration of Independence, were widely known in France and inspirational to significant portions of the French populace. On an even more immediate and direct basis, Jefferson spent the five years leading up to the outbreak of the French Revolution, in Paris as American minister plenipotentiary to France. During that time, he corresponded and met regularly with a number of the principal French leaders of factions driving for political reform, including Lafayette, Condorcet, La Rochefoucauld, and Mirabeau, advising and influencing them in a wide variety of matters of social and political philosophy and governance.Jefferson's influence may be seen in the fact that many of the reform demands that were made, and principals that were espoused by reformers, mirrored American precepts in general, and his own in particular. The echoes between the principles expressed in the French Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen, and its predecessor, Jefferson's American Declaration, for example, are numerous. In return, Jefferson was himself significantly influenced by his time in France - by the nature of the situation, the conditions endured by the populace, and the ideas of his French counterparts - experiences which would prove over time to contribute to the shaping of his own socio-political beliefs and actions throughout the remainder of his political career. The two revolutions were by no means entirely disconnected affairs, but were substantively linked to each other - particularly through the personal presence of Thomas Jefferson in each movement - in spirit, in principles, in accomplishment, and in significant degrees of reciprocal influence on each other.
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