Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)



Advisor/Committee Chair

Ryan Irwin


Much of the traditional scholarship of the Early American Republic agrees that the national identity of the United States was solidified in 1789. A government and nation emerged from the Constitutional Convention, they argue. While the framers produced a governing document and a system of institutions in Philadelphia that summer, notions of American identity remained fluid. In fact, contemporary events that occurred beyond the United States’ borders left a lasting imprinting on conceptualizations of self and identity. In particular, the French Revolution (1789 – 1794) played a defining role. This paper argues that the development of national identity in the Early Republic is a transatlantic story. American interpretations of the French Revolution refracted back into a national consciousness, creating an understanding of what it meant to be an American. The stories of two foreign service members, Gouverneur Morris and John Quincy Adams, substantiate this claim. Morris witnessed the violence of the French Revolution first-hand in Paris; Adams lived through the tumultuous period of Revolutionary Wars in the Netherlands and Prussia. Both accounts demonstrated that a national identity had not yet been fully defined, and the events of the French Revolution impressed their thinking of what it meant to be an American.

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