From Prairial to Pop Culture: Day Twenty-three. Go East, young man: A comparison of continental expansion in the USA and France

In honor of the fourth of July: a reflection on continental expansion. Where we in the US remember the expansionist phase of our country’s history with the phrase, “Go West, young man”—a slogan once used to encourage pioneers to settle the “savage” Indian lands of the Midwest and Plains–in the France of the late 1790s, a similarly triumphalist attitude reigned supreme, which one could dub: “Go East, young man”—east into Italy, Switzerland, Germany. The politics were equally as problematic as ours, even if their rhetoric was couched in terms of extending “fraternity” to oppressed nations laboring under monarchy instead of conquering “derelict” countries whose “savage inhabitants were neither sufficiently numerous fitly to possess and utilize it, nor sufficiently skilled to be able to defend their occupancy.”*
An optimistic cosmopolitanism drives this expansionism, at least in theory. Orators such as Prussian nobleman Anacharsis Cloots advocated the abolition of all existing nations and the establishment of a single world state under which all human individuals would be subsumed. Henceforth all men would form a world-wide “republic of united individuals.”** Cloots’ rhetoric was later drawn upon to justify the creation—through military conquest–of the so-called “sister republics” or républiques sœurs of France during the Directory period (1795-99). Which of the following is not the name of a French république sœur?
1. La République cisalpine
2. La République deutsche
3. La République helvétique
4. La République ligurienne

* Thomas Cooley, “The Acquisition of Louisiana,” Indiana Historical Society Publications, Vol. 2 (Indianapolis, IN: The Bowen-Merrill Co., 1895).
**La République universelle ou adresse aux tyrannicides, 1792; Bases constitutionelles de la république du genre humain, 1793.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s