Thomas Jefferson and the Francophobes

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every man has two countries, his own and France.” By France he surely meant Paris. I know the sentiment. Pursuing this dual citizenship of the heart is one of my life’s great passions , and it’s a leitmotif of this blog.

So naturally I quoted Jefferson when BBC producer Geoff Byrd called me a couple weeks ago to chat about les bouquinistes. I assured him that some Americans still love France, and we agreed that we wouldn’t worry about the boorish louts who don’t. Disagreement between Francophobes and Francophiles is an American political tradition that stretches back even further than Thomas Jefferson.

I paraphrased TJ’s words and complicated the thought by adding “citizen” to it. While the producer worked on scheduling studio time when we could record a conversation, I worked on tracking down the exact quote and its provenance.

Eventually, I found it in the introduction to Brian Morton’s 1984 guidebook, Americans in Paris. After deleting “citizen” from my formulation, I found thousands of references to it on Google. None of the top results identified the source in Jefferson’s writings. So the search for documentation continues, though I wonder if it might be apochryphal.

Along the way, I found an essay by linguist Geoff Nunberg examining the Francophobes vs. Francophiles tradition as expressed in the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign. And wouldn’t you know, the essay was broadcast on BBC Radio 4:

As it happens, France-bashing is a new note in American politics.

… we Americans have had a generally congenial relationship with France ever since the 18th Century, when Louis XVI sent troops to help the colonists in their War of Independence and when Benjamin Franklin won the hearts of the Parisians as the wartime colonies’ envoy to France.

“Every man has two countries,” Jefferson said once, “his own and France.”

It’s hard to imagine those words coming from Wellington.

For US conservatives that all changed when the French opposed taking immediate military action against Saddam Hussein last year.

Some people suggested boycotting French products, and patriotic restaurateurs were shown on television dumping their French wines.

… In the end, that Francophobic rhetoric always had less to do with an antipathy to the French than to the Francophiles. Read more.

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