of the French Revolutionary period poses several larger questions on the identity of the Enlightenment as a whole, and of differences within this movement at the end of the eighteenth century.
Was there a universal idea of the Enlightenment, extending from English radicals, French Lumières, and ranging across the sea to the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution?
Or, by contrast, was the Enlightenment a series of national phenomena that casually, yet frequently, discussed international questions to create a misleading veneer of cosmopolitanism?
What was the precise relationship between the universal idea of the Enlightenment and the particular, national experiences of the ?
Finally, may we speak of the breakdown of an Enlightenment coalition under the circumstantial pressures of American neutrality, “gallomania,” American Federalism repression and French Jacobinism terror that tested relations between the two young Republics?
Such a demonstration, in any case, is beyond the scope of this article.
Yet, by the decade of the 1790s, the “reality” of the Atlantic Enlightenment was bound to be transformed by the dream of the internationalization of “commercial honor” (Medows 69-71; see also Vidalenc, Greer, Childs).
7 Transatlantic Enlightenment cosmopolitanism in the 1790s was infused with the ideal that greater commerce, in the full sense of the term, between France and America would be the basis for republican solidarity.
The French Revolution never was freed of the geo-political aspirations of, most notably, Turgot and Vergennes, who had argued in the 1770s that the commercial interest of France was served by the persistence of anglophobia that guided the Americans through the War of Independence.
 To this end, the Minister Vergennes launched the newspaper,...
And as Benjamin Franklin had been quick to exploit as an unofficial ambassador in Paris, the French Empire would come to the aid of America insofar as its francophile image promised closer ties in opposition to Great Britain.
, Etienne Clavière, Jacques-Pierre Brissot, and, as will be examined in greater detail below, Antoine de Condorcet, the American Enlightenment strengthened the identity of the French Enlightenment in its universalizing message: that an age of reason had arrived with the advent of the two Revolutions.
But in the decade of the 1790s these ambitious hopes and aspirations became tensions and disappointments in the face of the realpolitik of American federalism and French Jacobinism.
As will be demonstrated at the end of this essay through the reflections of La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, by the end of the 1790s, the late French Enlightenment view across the Atlantic would be tinted by deception and misunderstanding, based precisely on the reality of “commercial honor,” which, in practice, only favored commerce at the expense of honor.
were with the immediacy of personal contact in the circles and salons of Paris, it was these rare Americans who took the month-long journey across the Atlantic (an average of a forty-five day return trip awaited them) who were considered to be fully equal members of the Enlightenment fraternity.
who focused on the problem of the place of America in the second half of the eighteenth century, in particular, the beginning and end of the revolutionary decade.
It concentrates on two historical “moments” in which the image of the American Enlightenment may be measured in France: first, the reaction to the news of the death of the popular cosmopolitan figure, Benjamin Franklin—the “Bonhomme Richard”—in June, 1790.
And, second, the year that many historians have viewed as that which signalled diplomatic rupture between France and the United States: 1798, when the two republics barely averted war on the open seas and when the romance of “gallomania” in the United States reached its denouement.
By studying the reception in France of the American Enlightenment message during these years, this essay will highlight the conceptual prisms through which the of the French Enlightenment viewed the United States.
As will be shown, by the end of the eighteenth century, French Enlightenment categories, such as “society” and “commerce” became obstacles to the comprehension of what may have been a specifically American contribution to the Enlightenment.
Hence, the first momentous event that called for an appraisal of the impact of an American Enlightenment upon the French Revolution was the death of the first well-known republican American, Benjamin Franklin, news that arrived in Revolutionary Paris in June, 1790.
Franklin himself had been in France from 1776 to 1785, first, as unofficial ambassador and, later, as the “Minister Plenipotentiary” and had cultivated close relations with La Rochefoucauld-d’Enville, Turgot and the Ministre Vergennes, among others.
At the moment of the French Revolution, it was Benjamin Franklin who embodied the American Enlightenment.
11 The published funeral orations were professions of the powerful influence Franklin had enjoyed in France.
There was, however, a tendency of the speakers to demonstrate “inside” knowledge of the then-unpublished manuscript of Franklin’s autobiography, which reduced some of the orations to a formulaic recitation of the life of Franklin.
This notion of “commercial honor” forcibly blurred and dimmed distinctions between personal and economic relationships.
Hence, social networks also became financial networks in the 4 In much of the current research on the Enlightenment, a material focus on the transmission of ideas from France to America, and vice-versa, renders the Atlantic Enlightenment a concrete, historical process.
Such a synthesis largely surpasses the “idealist” approach which conceived of a supposed Enlightenment “consensus”—a “party of humanity”—first constructed in France and whose principal ideas ultimately drifted across the Atlantic.
 have been amply discussed by Robert Darnton, Daniel Roche, Carla Hesse, and many others.
The network of reading societies and clubs, publishing circles and subscribers, of academies and loosely-knit political associations, brought the of the Enlightenment into direct contact with one another, creating fraternities, intellectual exchanges, and even material debts and obligations that were in many ways as vital as the academic debates between 6 It would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to show that such ties existed on an international level and, in particular, between the people who criss-crossed the Atlantic Ocean.