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Transatlantic Spaces of Revolution: The French Revolution, Sciotomanie, and American Lands

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This paper explores an unlikely incident in order to probe how Atlantic culture, commerce, and colonization influenced French revolutionary politics. In 1789-90, American and British agents in France promoted sales of land in Scioto, Ohio. Land shares sold like hotcakes: the outbreak of revolution spurred early emigration. The buyers included leading aristocrats and right-wing monarchists. Given America's status as space of colonization and political invention, Scioto speedily became a hot topic of political debate and satire in French revolutionary press and pamphlets. This paper examines the multiple meanings of America by asking how agents sold l'Amérique, how the aristocrats planned a paternalist utopia in Ohio, and how French revolutionary patriots used satire, travelogues, and political persuasion to debate emigration, colonization, nature vs. civilization, and American vs. French liberty. This analysis of Sciotomanie rethinks the "Atlantic Revolutions" model: it illustrates how remnant French interest in colonizing North Atlantic lands interacted with the exchange of revolutionary culture. Second, it shows how the revolutionary circulation of ideas and commerce not only produced creative politics but also fomented a lasting national rivalry between France and the U.S. over the moral leadership of modern politics.

Affiliations: 1: University of Wisconsin-Madison


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