2012 New History
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02-2782-9555 # 226


The Establishment of Modern Citizenship during the French
Revolution and the Identity Problem of British Radical Expatriates
in France

Tasi-yeh Wang

Department of History, Fu Jen Catholic University

This article examines the identity problems of politically radical British expatriates in France, who viewed themselves as “citizens of the world” while the concept of modern “citizenship” was being established during the French Revolution. The main body of this article comprises seven parts: Parts one and part two focus on the conflict between the concepts of “citizens of the world” and modern “citizenship.” Parts three and four respectively discuss the definition of modern citizenship during the early phase of the French Revolution and the definition of citizenship by British radicals. The new French regime translated abstract principles of citizenship into concrete prescriptions; that is, the French government created a documented citizenship with nationality and political rights—while British radical expatriates in France still defined citizenship in the way it had been viewed in classical philosophy; that is to say, “citizens” implied good and virtuous people. As the French Republic went to war against the first coalition, the revolutionary government made extensive legislative proscriptions against foreigners and defined citizenship on political grounds. Parts five and six therefore explore the definition of “citizens” used by the French government during the Terror and the experiences of British radical expatriates in France. This reveals the problems the British expatriates faced during this period. In part seven, the article concludes that the main identity problem that British expatriates suffered during the French Revolution stemmed from the fundamental conflict between their classical view of the concept of citizenship and modern “citizenship” as defined concretely by the French government. They repeatedly mistakenly equated their “cosmopolitanism” with the French “fraternity.” Most importantly, this article also argues that current research on French modern citizenship tends to simplify the fluid and problematic issues of identity and belonging that emerged during the French Revolution as well as a complex cultural shift from the High Enlightenment to the rise of European states in the revolutionary age.


Keywords: Britain, France, French Revolution, radicals, citizenship, citizens of the world