Angels of the New Republic”: The American Founding and the Habsburg Monarchy, 1776–89

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:00 AM
Centennial Ballroom G (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Jon Singerton, University of Edinburgh
“I cannot tell you what joy I feel, when I hear or read of your progress in America,” wrote János Zinner, a Hungarian academic, in 1778. “To speak the truth, I look upon you and all the chiefs of your new republic, as angels, sent by heaven to guide and comfort the human race.” Zinner’s sentiments should be curious to historians of the American Revolution not only for the author’s location, but also since they sharply contrasted the official position of the Habsburg Monarchy. The Habsburgs carefully maintained neutrality throughout the War of American Independence and were the last of the Great Powers of Europe to recognise the United States in 1838, despite the first American diplomatic mission occurring some sixty years previously.

This absence of official relations between the early United States and the Habsburg Monarchy has obscured our true understanding of the American Founding in Europe. This paper seeks to re-examine our conception of the American Revolution and its influence in Europe by exploring this neglected and seemingly nugatory connection between two distant transatlantic regions. In doing so it will challenge the ‘Atlantic World’ paradigm which has yet to include this Danubian hotbed of interest for the American cause. At the same time this paper will also consider the different receptions of the American Revolution within various social groups in Central Europe from the official level of Habsburg policy-makers to aristocratic courtiers and academics to the public sphere. By considering these examples, we will gain a fuller insight into how certain individuals transcended national boundaries even in the epitome of autocratic Europe during the Age of Revolutions. Ultimately, through the lens of US-Habsburg connections, this paper will present both a geographically and socially redefined vision of the American founding in Central Europe.

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