Atlantic Networks and the Problem of Liberty in the Age of Revolutions, 1776-1815
9-10:30 Border Crossers
Revolutionary movements in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have influenced the way revolutions in general are defined and understood. By the 1990s, scholars began to speak of third and fourth generations of scholarship on revolutions, and recent movements of protest and contention may result in a “fifth generation.” This recent scholarship has an impact on understanding the revolutionary movements of “The Age of Revolution, 1776-1815.” However, much of this scholarly debate and discussion has been about 19th and 20th century revolutions rather than movements in the classic “Age of Revolutions.” This paper will attempt to be more direct in viewing the revolutions of this earlier era within the perspective of the recent theorizing. One of the emerging themes in this evolving scholarship is the recognition of the importance of ideologies and religious mobilizations in revolutions and the importance of networks of activists and intellectuals in shaping the discourses of revolution. Trans-regional networks were an important part of revolutionary movements in many parts of the world in the classic age of revolutions. A comparison of the nature of the Atlantic networks with networks in the Muslim world and elsewhere, utilizing some of the analytical approaches of the third and fourth (and fifth?) generations of theories of revolution, can provide some suggestive new insights into the revolutionary processes of that era. This paper will work within the framework of this comparative analysis, starting with the hypothesis that the concepts of trans-regional networks and repertoires of contention of the “fourth generation” theories provide important insights into the nature of revolutionary discourse in 1776-1815, and that this analysis will be strengthened by comparing the Atlantic networks with other networks involved in revolutionary movements in other parts of the world at that time.
Spain long depended upon men of color to defend its Atlantic colonies and Cuba's black militias had a proud tradition of service that stretched back to the sixteenth century. Over time, many black militia officers acquired a status and reputation that might have seemed unthinkable in other European colonies. They were educated, held property, and performed acts of religious piety and beneficence that further enhanced their status in the Spanish community. The black militia men of Cuba reinforced their corporate connections and leveraged their wealth through intermarriage and godparentage, forming tight familial networks and fictive kinships. This paper analyzes black militia networks in late eighteenth-century Cuba, tracking their shared service in key events such as the British seizure of Havana in 1762 and the American and French Revolutions, as well as their growing disillusionment as they saw their reputations and privileges diminished in the early nineteenth century. Thereafter, many who had fought for the liberty of the American Patriots, turned instead to liberate Cuba’s enslaved masses.
The insurrectionary politics of the smallest northern European countries bewildered onlookers. Diplomatic relations with the imperial powers all around them further complicated their revolutionary politics. The Genevan, Dutch, and Belgian revolutionaries, acutely aware of their vulnerable position might have echoed Peter Ochs who hesitated when asked by a French friend for his political views. “Small citizen of a small aristocratic republic populated by merchants and artisans, should I go forth from my political salon exclaiming what I think? Should I dare to deliberate in the palace of a king?” Revolutionaries who boldly staked out positions often found themselves fleeing in search of safer havens, usually in the midst of another revolution. Few as deliberately cosmopolitan as Anacharsis Cloots, these revolutionary itinerants crossed borders with abandon, joined clubs wherever they met, and understood their world in Atlantic terms.
11-12:30 Commerce, Letters and the Press
Usually, historians are studying the revolutionary era as a fundamentally political and ideological period, while Atlantic history mainly focuses on trade and business networks between North and South America, or between America and the world. Seldom, however, do historians highlight the links between speculation and revolution, or between business and freedom, since both seem incompatible. The question arises whether this is always the case. To be sure, in the revolutionary era, business and politics were intertwined and overlapped, the more so since America and Europe became more and more interdependent. To bring to light these interactions, this paper will explore the career of four patriots and their business networks, before focusing on their relation to liberty.
Transatlantic networks of other kinds were central to the very notion of colonialism. The white colonists in Saint-Domingue feared the phantom of a French-inspired revolutionary network inspiring their slaves to revolt. Their fears were partly rooted in reality: they knew that they could not disentangle themselves from the veritable network of networks that bound them to the rest of the Atlantic world. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that anti-slavery activists in France or elsewhere made any attempt to influence events in Saint-Domingue. The colony's strategic position within these networks did, however, offer the white colonists opportunities to extend their own influence. If they could not entirely protect themselves from the metropole, they could at least try to combat the problem they saw themselves facing at its source, by implanting their own networks there. Throughout much of the Revolution, the colonists’ network exercised a very real influence on French policy. A rival network, representing the colony’s important population of free men of color, also succeeded in influencing metropolitan decision-making. The example of these colonial networks shows the complexity of the interactions between Saint-Domingue and the metropole during the French Revolution, and reminds us that networking activists were not always proponents of liberty and equality.
2-3:30 Entangled Identities
In the revolutionary era the very existence of the Roman Catholic church was threatened. Yet the spirit of liberty that its members had so much feared in the past made it possible for the Church to survive and for its faithful to thrive throughout the North Atlantic world. (This region was until then considered a Protestant mare clausum.) With freedom, however, came the loosening of authority and control over not only the lay faithful, but also the ordained clergy. Bishops contested the Holy See's authority, communities stood up to their bishops, and many priests simply misbehaved mainly in matters pertaining to politics, drinking, money and sex -- or were accused to do so. By taking the Conquest of Canada (1760) and full Catholic emancipation throughout the British Empire (1829) as its chronological limits, this paper addresses the issue of whether the new libertine language ("libertarian" in today's usage) concealed or blurred misbehaving practices that were common throughout the Atlantic world, or whether behaviors that would have been improper in the past had by then been accepted, tolerated, or quite simply impossible to check.
This paper addresses the intersection of the various senses of identity and political identities in Freetown during the 1790s, including the paradoxes involved: the sacking of Freetown by a French ship representing the Revolutionary government in Paris, and the monarchical ideology evinced by the Jamaican Maroons when they arrived to find the American black settlers in what was, at least in part, a republican uprising.
This paper will consider the various ways in which the French Revolution transformed the early American republic. Drawing on the experiences of North American travelers and sojourners — including Indians and African Americans — in Europe, Canada, Sierra Leone, North Africa, and the West Indies, Gould proposes 1794 as a moment when America’s world changed in ways that were every bit as profound as the changes associated with the Declaration of Independence in 1776.