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The right kind of meddlers
June 2, 2009 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Although in many ways a regional conflict, the American Revolution had an ideological dimension that attracted many non-Americans to the conflict, from the Polish revolutionary Tadeusz Kościuszko to the French aristocrat marquis de Lafayette.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
You might be interested in the Preliminary Survey of Sites Associated with the Lives and Deeds of Foreign-born Heroes of the American Revolution [pdf]. Besides the sites it also has an extensive listing of those involved with short biographies of some of them.
posted by tellurian at 11:39 PM on June 2, 2009


There was also Beaumarchais, author of Barber of Seville. He supplied arms to the Americans.

He had a fascinating life. I recommend Beaumarchais in Seville which only covers a small fraction of his life and yet is enough to fill anyone else's biography.
posted by vacapinta at 12:45 AM on June 3, 2009


Also interesting is the involvement in the War of Independence (alongside the French) of a Sudanese-Egyptian slave battalion that fought in Mexico.

A Black Corps D'elite: an Egyptian Sudanese conscript battalion with the French Army in Mexico, 1863-1867, and its survivors in subsequent African history by Richard Leslie Hill and Peter C. Hogg looking at how an under-strength battalion of 446 officers and men with one civilian interpreter sailed from Alexandria, Egypt in a French troopship for service with the French expeditionary force in Mexico. And...
They were being dispatched by the ruler of Egypt at the urgent request of Emperor Napoleon III to replace French troops who were dying of yellow fever in unacceptable numbers in France's ill-fated 1863-1867 campaign to establish an imperial presence in Mexico. Most of the Sudanese troops had been forcibly acquired by the Egyptian government, which avoided the stigma of slavery by emancipating them at enlistment and holding them as military conscripts for the rest of their working lives. The French command at Veracruz was ill-equipped to receive this utterly un-French battalion. The reasons for this lay possibly in restricted attitudes, which made little provision for understanding the ways of non-European people. Even so, a sense of common humanity ultimately prevailed. In four years of patrolling and campaigning together, the Sudanese were never goaded into mutiny and the French developed a permanent admiration for their African allies.
Looking at the Civil War, I've only been able to find one book that deals with the Marxists/communist immigrants from the 1848 revolutions in Europe and how they got involved in the Civil War in America. Red Republicans and Lincoln's Marxists: Marxism in the Civil War by Walter D Kennedy and Al Benson looks at how refugees from Europe took up the Republican cause and tries to paint the war against the Confederate States as part of a communist plot. It's a badly written book, but I've seen nothing else on the subject.
posted by xpermanentx at 2:42 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kosciuszko was a fascinating guy--an ideal romantic, really. The Kosciuszko Foundation in New York has more info about him and Polish history generally. They also have neat cultural events.

Adam Zamoyski (one of those Zamoyskis) has written on just about every aspect of Polish history, including Kosciuszko, Pulawski, and a slew of other people: Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1861.

Here's his Memoir, and another good biography. Here's more about the Society of the Cincinnati, of which he was a member.

One of the great Polish poems, Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz (English - Polish), is an oblique reference to Kosciuszko.

For your freedom and ours!
posted by orrnyereg at 5:53 AM on June 3, 2009


Thank God for the Polish generals...else we in NYC and Jersey wouldn't know what to name our decrepit, outer boroughs bridges.
posted by spicynuts at 5:56 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kosciuszko was a fascinating guy--an ideal romantic, really.

I know, right? Which is why I was so confused that I only heard about him like last year. You'd think he'd be more prominent.

My theory for this is because his name is a pain in the ass for English speakers. The guy proofreading street signs is only gonna try to spell-check "Kosciuszko Blvd" so many times before he just says, "Screw it. It's Patton Blvd now."
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 6:07 AM on June 3, 2009


Lots of cities have Pulaski day celebrations but you almost never hear of any having Kościuszko celebrations. But, as spicynuts alludes to, you get to hear his name mentioned (mangled, actually) in traffic reports in the NYC area. So he's got that going for him, I guess.

I'm feeling kind of proud of my heritage at the moment. Thanks.
posted by tommasz at 6:40 AM on June 3, 2009


In what way was the North American Revolution a regional conflict? I understand that its proximal causes were regional - or at least particular - but it was fed by Enlightenment values from Europe and I'm pretty sure that the reflex response of many people brought up in with the same values would have been to support it. Add into that France and Spain's political and economic advantage from helping Britain's colonies to break away, and you get the impression that it was 'regional' in the same way that the Second Indochina War was 'regional'. That is, only superficially because most of the fighting took place in a small area.

Indeed, fighting actually did take place in many parts of the world connected with the conflict, with France and Spain trying to invade Britain itself, and the Revolution in North America providing a spark for the French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic Wars. I would go as far as to say that what started in Philadelphia eventually took place on a stage as wide as Europe and its empires, and is an integral part of our history.

It would be more surprising if people from outside North America hadn't taken part, really. It was an intensely European conflict.
posted by Sova at 6:45 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's news to me that Spain and France attempted to invade Britain on America's behalf, Sova, or indeed that they attempted to invade Britain at all (except for that bizarre episode in Wales in 1797).

It's undeniably true that events in America were connected with worldwide politics and revolutionary fervour - but that's not enough to stop it being essentially an American, not a European conflict. European nations certainly saw America as an inspiring/frightening example, and a vulnerable back door through which to hit Britain - but they also generally had more immediate concerns on their own doorsteps, surely?
posted by Phanx at 7:30 AM on June 3, 2009


Aside: Seattle peeps who have an interest in things Revolutionary should have hied themselves to SAM for the American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery show. Sadly, it closed on May 25, but the PDF guide is still hanging around on the site. The show's centerpiece was two rooms of paintings by John Trumbull of most of the well-known figures of the Revolutionary period, including Lafayette.
posted by mwhybark at 7:46 AM on June 3, 2009


It's undeniably true that events in America were connected with worldwide politics and revolutionary fervour - but that's not enough to stop it being essentially an American, not a European conflict. European nations certainly saw America as an inspiring/frightening example, and a vulnerable back door through which to hit Britain - but they also generally had more immediate concerns on their own doorsteps, surely?

Sova is right. Calling it "essentially an American" conflict is really just semantics, since a considerable part of the war was fought in Westminster and Versailles. I mean, Georgia and most of New England didn't have any major battles throughout most of the war (after Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and the burning of Portland, all in 1775)--does that mean they weren't part of the war either?

Not to mention that the War of Independence was more than a spark for the French: their enormous financial investment drove the economic crisis that set the scene for the French Revolution. And, as far as they were concerned, it was the natural outgrowth of another, undeniably global, conflict--the Seven Years' War.
posted by nasreddin at 8:16 AM on June 3, 2009


I'm not sure what the argument is about here. I thought this post was about "ordinary" Europeans who involved themselves in the American conflict.

Not because they were helplessly drawn into it or to secure their respective country's interest but because...they wanted to. As the post title says "meddlers" in a regional conflict that they, personally, could have ignored. The grander socio-political aspects of the war are interesting and relevant, but as backstory.
posted by vacapinta at 8:26 AM on June 3, 2009


We're having a strictly regional dispute, vacapinta, limited to the first clause of the post.
posted by Phanx at 8:52 AM on June 3, 2009


I grew up in Kosciusko county in Indiana, in the county seat of Warsaw. Better believe we learned about Tadeusz.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:11 AM on June 3, 2009


Wikipedia has articles on French and Spanish involvement in the American Revolution. The French Navy fought the British Navy throughout the English Channel, Atlantic Ocean, and Caribbean. French troops were the majority of the Franco-American troops at the sieges of Savannah and Yorktown. France and Spain collaborated in the failed Great Siege of Gibraltar and a successful invasion of Minorca. The British attacked Honduras shortly after Spain entered the war, and attacked Spanish garrisons in the Louisiana Territory. Spain later captured the Bahamas. The Fourth Anglo–Dutch War was kind of a spinoff.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:20 AM on June 3, 2009


When I think of "meddlers" I think of outsiders. This doesn't qualify, because it wasn't really a country yet - it was a colony, and so it's not as if Britain had the same kind of claim on the land. Basically, they grabbed some land - from the natives. Everyone was an outsider - except for the American Indians. So adding more Europeans would not change that - everyone (except the Natives) was on the same terms: colonialists and immigrants. There was no established sovereign country here - so I hardly think of these folks as "meddlers", as the outsiders; they had as much right to immigrate as anybody.

As to Kosciuszko, the most interesting thing to me, was his very enlightened attitude to slavery - he was extremely opposed. He thought that fighting for freedom should encompass the freedom of the slaves. He was an eloquent and persistent champion of the slaves as simply human beings who are terribly wronged. He begged and cajoled Jefferson to free his slaves. He left his money to the cause of freeing slaves. He was morally way ahead of his time.
posted by VikingSword at 10:59 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Excellent point, VikingSword: in fact, support for Kosciuszko's revolution in the Polish lands foundered on his insistence on freeing the serfs. So, the revolution failed, he died in exile a broken man, and Poland as a country disappeared (courtesy of the Third Partition) until 1918. A sad business all around.

Someone really should make a movie about his life.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:50 AM on June 3, 2009


My theory for this is because his name is a pain in the ass for English speakers.
Mount Kosciusko after being named in 1840 was only corrected in 1997.
posted by tellurian at 4:02 PM on June 3, 2009


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