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This Bright Era of Happy Revolutions
French Consul Michel-Ange-Bernard Mangourit and International Republicanism in Charleston, 1792–1794

Robert J. Alderson, Jr.

An examination of a French revolutionary's efforts to capitalize on tensions in the young American republic

As French consul to the Carolinas and Georgia, Michel-Ange-Bernard Mangourit was dispatched in 1792 to capitalize on the fledgling alliance between the young republics as a means to spread the French Revolution into Spanish holdings in the Floridas and Louisiana. "This bright era of happy revolutions," as Joseph Clay, Jr., of Georgia deemed it, was ripe with opportunity for establishing transatlantic republican solidarity with a foothold in Charleston. In his analysis of the public and clandestine activities of Mangourit during his short tenure in Charleston, Robert J. Alderson, Jr., presents a case study of the challenge given to U.S. republicanism by its French counterpart.

Before arriving in Charleston, Mangourit was already a well-established republican revolutionary. He was an important member of the Free-masons and one of the first journalists of the French Revolution. Sent to organize invasion forces against Spanish colonies, Mangourit tapped into a wide range of support for the French Revolution and its implications for South Carolina. The consul helped form the Republican Society of South Carolina to organize the friends of France, create a transatlantic public sphere, and assist the invasions. The pro-French planters of South Carolina were not merely interested in expansion for economic gains; they believed that the cause of liberty was in peril. These fears fueled criticism of the state's social order, and by encouraging these developments, the consul connected interest and ideology. Meanwhile he was also able to recruit disenfranchised South Carolinians, from backcountrymen who challenged lowcountry rule in the state to South Carolina women who sought better treatment for members of their sex. Mangourit was even linked to rumors of a slave revolt on a par with the Haitian Revolution.

In the end Mangourit's preparations came to nothing, and he was recalled before the invasion projects could be carried out. French and American republicanism quickly diverged, and the French lost their best opportunity to reclaim their empire in North America. Alderson's study of Mangourit shows that the tension between republicanism and self-interest could be resolved at the local level, but republicanism could not be the only basis for national relations. "This bright era of happy revolutions" marked only a moment in Atlantic history, but it was an era that could have changed the course of history in the Southern states.

Robert J. Alderson, Jr., is an associate professor of history at Georgia Perimeter College in Covington, where he was awarded the Writer's Fellowship for 2006. His reviews and essays have appeared in such publications as Journal of Military History and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World.

"In this first full-scale study of Mangourit's tenure as consul in Charleston, Robert Alderson's careful reconstruction of local events broadens into an illuminating analysis of many of the multifaceted manifestations of Republicanism in the Atlantic world of the late eighteenth century. The result is a book that will appeal to readers with a wide variety of interests."—Robert M. Weir, author of Colonial South Carolina: A History

"Alderson conveys Mangourit's conviction and his determination to carry out his mission in a well-documented work. It provides ideological context for the critical issues of the French alliance, slavery, westward expansion, and defining republicanism in America in the 1790s."—Georgia Historical Quarterly

"The legacy of the American War for Independence coupled with the French Revolution and the effects of its recent regicide prepare us to explore the politically volatile world of Charleston in the mid 1790s. Robert J. Alderson, Jr., brilliantly enlightens our understanding of this fascinating-and sometimes unbelievable-few years in a detailed and compelling monograph focusing on Michel-Ange-Bernard Mangourit. This Bright Era of Happy Revolutions is a superior study of the early national period and should be required reading for anyone delving into the politics and diplomacy of the turbulent 1790s. Alderson's thoughtful analysis is supported by impeccable research in primary sources. His superb bibliography is truly a boon to scholars of that decade."—South Carolina Historical Magazine

"Alderson convincingly portrays 'international republicanism' in the 1790s. He shows the ideological links and common goals of republicans in both countries, and yet their insuperable differences. For those who want a spirited narrative of the actions of Mangourit as well as of the debate and the projects around him and his nation in the mid-1790s in South Carolina and Georgia, this book provides it."—American Historical Review




6 x 9
288 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-745-0
hardcover, $44.95s


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