Harlow Giles Unger: Why the French Hate America

Historians in the News

Not content to tell us the story of his riveting book, The French War Against America, which details Paris's machinations to undermine American independence during and after the Revolution, Harlow Giles Unger held us spellbound with an in depth discussion of the psychological and intellectual history of France from its earliest days as a nation. The French of the eras of Clovis and Charlemagne became imbued with the idea that they were the divinely ordained first nation not only of Europe but of the world. By the time they achieved domination of Europe under Louis XIV, the "Sun King," they had commandeered popes, taken over the Catholic Church and brooked no interference with their assumption of global power. That is why the Seven Years War, known in America as the French and Indian War, came as such a shock to them. The French were defeated everywhere, in Europe, Africa, India and North America, where they were stripped of their dominion over two thirds of the continent. This loss inspired their aid to the infant United States during the Revolution. But they never had the slightest intention of letting the Americans become yet another power (along with England) to rival French pretensions. Only hard-nosed American insistence on retaining control of the war both on the battlefield and on the diplomatic front frustrated them. When Revolutionary France emerged, the same subvert America policies saw the installment of Edmond Genet as French ambassador. He was soon playing proconsul, denouncing President Washington and inspiring riots in major cities, until even that lover of all things French, Thomas Jefferson, turned against him. From there Harlow took us swiftly through the next century and a half, explaining the compulsive French hatred of America so visible today as rooted in this primary rage at France's loss of world leadership. It hardly needs to be added that the applause was vigorous and so were sales of The French War Against America.

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pedro castilla - 11/30/2005

Well, I never said that Guillaume le COnquerant was sometime King of France. I don't said that the kingdom of France conquered England. I said that frenchmen conquered England, and Macaulay is my basis.

Lorraine Paul - 11/30/2005

William of Normandy, or as he is more commonly known - William the Conquerer, was never King of France.
However, he was a feudal vassal of the French King.

pedro castilla - 11/28/2005

So the French never conquered england?

Then please read this text from TB Maucaulay (the main british historian born in s. XIX):

During the century and a half which followed the Conquest, there is, to speak strictly, no English history. The French Kings of England rose, indeed, to an eminence which was the wonder and dread of all neighbouring nations. They conquered Ireland. They received the homage of Scotland. By their valour, by their policy, by their fortunate matrimonial alliances, they became far more popular on the Continent than their liege lords the Kings of France. Asia, as well as Europe, was dazzled by the power and glory of our tyrants. Arabian chroniclers recorded with unwilling admiration the fall of Acre, the defence of Joppa, and the victorious march to Ascalon; and Arabian mothers long awed their infants to silence with the name of the lionhearted Plantagenet. At one time it seemed that the line of Hugh Capet was about to end as the Merovingian and Carlovingian lines had ended, and that a single great monarchy would spread from the Orkneys to the Pyrenees. So strong an association is established in most minds between the greatness of a sovereign and the greatness of the nation which he rules, that almost every historian of England has expatiated with a sentiment of exultation on the power and splendour of her foreign masters, and has lamented the decay of that power and splendour as a calamity to our country. This is, in truth, as absurd as it would be in a Haytian negro of our time to dwell with national pride on the greatness of Lewis the Fourteenth, and to speak of Blenheim and Ramilies with patriotic regret and shame. The Conqueror and his descendants to the fourth generation were not Englishmen: most of them were born in France: they spent the greater part of their lives in France: their ordinary speech was French: almost every high office in their gift was filled by a Frenchman: every acquisition which they made on the Continent estranged them more and more from the population of our island. One of the ablest among them indeed attempted to win the hearts of his English subjects by espousing an English princess. But, by many of his barons, this marriage was regarded as a marriage between a white planter and a quadroon girl would now be regarded in Virginia. In history he is known by the honourable surname of Beauclerc; but, in his own time, his own countrymen called him by a Saxon nickname, in contemptuous allusion to his Saxon connection".

This is not said by a chauvinist pro french internaut, but by one of the most reknown british historians.

Excuse my english, which is not my natal tongue.

Donald Etz - 10/28/2005

Browsing in the local public library, I came across a new book, The French War against America. Intrigued by the title, I checked it out, and at home began to read.

The introduction stopped me cold. Recovering, I glanced through the rest. I was not reassured. Wondering if anyone else had the same reaction, I went to the Web looking for reviews, and found three, all favorable: Kathy Herrmann, Big Cat Chronicles (dated 5-31-05); Fitz Barringer, Carolina Review (undated); History News Network, Newsletter of the American Revolution Round Table (9-27-05). Faced with these contrary views, let me state my case.

My problems with the introduction are well represented by the following points from pp 2 & 3.

"Until the creation of the United States, the French had dominated the Western World for the better part of ten centuries."
France didn't begin to exist until the mid-ninth century, dominated Europe only during the reigns of Louis XIV and XV, and had lost her position a dozen years before the American Revolution began.

"Clovis...converting to Catholicism in A.D. 696...Pope Athanasius II accordingly proclaimed France 'the elder daughter of the church'."
Clovis converted in AD 496, the Pope was Anastasius II, and his congratulatory letter to Clovis is now considered a 17th century forgery.

"...Pope Stephan...crown Pepin the Short in 751."
Pope Stephen II crowned Pepin in 754.

"Charlemagne's armies swept across...Germany, Austria, Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, northern Spain, Denmark, and eastern Europe."
Maps I've checked omit Corsica, Sardinia, Denmark, and eastern Europe, and show only a narrow strip of northeastern Spain south of the Pyrenees.

"The kings of Spain (His Most Catholic Majesty) and Britain (His Most Britannic Majesty) paid homage to Charlemagne as 'His Most Christian Majesty'..."
When Charlemagne was crowned, there were no kings of Spain or Britain. I'm not aware of any occasion when a king of either Spain or Britain paid homage to a king of France.

"...the French...the most warlike people the world had ever seen."
This is at best a wild exaggeration.

"Charlemagne's conquests marked the beginning of eleven centuries of French military terror in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America."

"After the French conquered England in 1066, French clerics ascended the Papal throne..."
William, Duke of Normandy, a descendant of Norsemen, conquered England. In the centuries that followed 1066, the kings of France, busy fighting off Norman and Angevin invasions, might have been surprised to be told that they had conquered England. During this time, which country ruled large tracts of land in the other? Remember the Hundred Years' War?
Pope Urban II, who promoted the First Crusade, was French. The next clearly French Pope was Urban IV, well after the Crusades. Only during the so-called Babylonian Captivity did French Popes predominate.

And so it goes.

In the body of the book (p 27), the author converts Robert Damiens from a man who attempted to assassinate Louis XV to a royal servant who attempted to rouse the king from his "slumbers" to attend an important meeting. The author seems preoccupied with Louis' time spent in the bedroom.

And so it goes. I gave up on it.

I rest my case.

Don Etz