East of Revolution – The Habsburg Monarchy and the American Revolution

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This work arises from my doctoral work completed at the University of Edinburgh between 2014 and 2018, entitled ‘Empires on the Edge – The Habsburg Monarchy and the American Revolution 1763-1789.’ I am currently working on developing this into a book manuscript which demonstrates the wider nature of the American Revolution and brings to attention a rich, but neglected story of connection between two unlikely states.

Please feel free to contact me about my this work or my other projects for any questions, suggestions, or collaboration ideas. In 2016 I published an article which outlines my general points expressed here as: “‘A Story of Benign Neglect’? Die Gründungsgeschichte Amerikas und die Habsburgermonarchie 1776-1783,” Opera Historica – Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Frühen Neuzeit, 17, No. 1 (2016), pp. 56-68. English abstract here. In 2017, I published another article which looked at the extent of knowledge and sympathy in the Habsburg Monarchy for the American Revolution.


 

In 2014, one historian commented, “If you teach a survey course on the history of American foreign relations, chances are that you don’t spend very much time on the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. As Rodney Dangerfield may have put it: ‘The Habsburgs get no respect.'” (1)

In essence, this project tells you why they should.

The diplomatic, economic, and intellectual connections between the Habsburg Monarchy and the United States between 1776-1789 were as rich, multifarious, and alive as connections between the newly declared United States of America and any other European power. From Transylvania in the far-flung corner of the Monarchy to Georgia in the southern-tip of the Republic, new linkages were forged in the crucible of the Age of Revolutions. From the mountains of northern Hungary and modern-day Slovakia to the three Tuscan sailors abandoned in northern Africa to the son of the first Habsburg representative moving out to the American West, lives of Habsburg subjects were forever altered by a conflict thought to be far away.

From across the vast swathes of these two large multiethnic empires, my doctoral work explored this much maligned history of the American Revolution. We might not anticipate that much could ever transpire between Central Europe and North America all the way across the Atlantic, but my work brings these surprising connections to life.

In nine chapters, I chart the American Revolution from a new perspective, from the Habsburg perspective. In doing so, I see to answer why did two diametrically opposed states attempt to forge relations with one another? Why did these relations fail? What effects did this have on the lives of Habsburg subjects? And how have we forgotten this?

The answers I believe rest in the perception of economic gain. Both sides believed each other had something to offer and when this illusion waned, so did the notion of a relationship. Consequently, the Habsburg Monarchy became the last of the European ‘Great Powers’ to recognise the United States. This situation, I argue, has also misled our historical memory to overlook this vibrant connection of the eighteenth century.

Projected Outline

Prologue : “A Story of Benign Neglect” – The Habsburg Monarchy and North America in an Age of Revolutions

Chapter One : “The Quarrel Between Mother and Daughter” – The Rise of Colonial and Revolutionary America in the Habsburg Mind, ca.1500-1776

Chapter Two : “Angels of the New Republic” – Networks of Sympathy for the American Revolution in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1776-1789

Chapter Three : “Some Here Are Warm for the Part of America” – The American Revolution and the Imperial Court at Vienna, 1776-1783

Chapter Four : “Wedded to the System They Have Embraced” – The Difficulty of Habsburg Neutrality in the War of American Independence, 1776-1783

Chapter Five : “The Long, Laborious, and Most Odious Task” – The First Struggle for Recognition between the Habsburg Monarchy and United States of America, 1776-1779

Chapter Six : “We Must Bide our Time” – The Habsburgs as Mediators and Profiteers in the American Revolution, 1780-1783

Chapter Seven : “A New Set of Merchants” – The Development of Post-war Commerce between the Habsburg Lands and the United States of America, 1783-1786

Chapter Eight : “If His Imperial Majesty Should Think Fit” – The First Habsburg Representatives in the United States of America, 1783-1789

Chapter Nine : “A Trifling Personage” – Thomas Jefferson and the Second Struggle for Recognition between the Habsburg Monarchy and United States of America, 1785-1786

Epilogue : “General Imbecility, Confusion, and Misery” – The Residue of Revolution in Habsburg Central Europe, 1787-1795

 


(1) Thomas Schwartz, “Roundtable Review of Nicole M. Phelps’ US-Habsburg Relations from 1815 to the paris Peace Conference: Introduction,” SHAFR Passport, Vol. 45, No. 1 (April, 2014), 6.

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