The Trilateral Center:

Benjamin Franklin and the New World Order

    I. Introduction

    This study aims to investigate the possibility of a relationship between a particular system of thought--republican ideology--and one of its component ideas, the concept of universal citizenship, and the actions of certain individuals, American and French, which catalyzed the French Revolution through the development of a universalist philosophy. The goals of this study thus are twofold: (1) to examine the role of Benjamin Franklin as an American catalyst, interacting with Frenchmen such as the Marquis de Lafayette to facilitate the coming of the French Revolution; and (2) to assess possible effects of that Gallo-American ideology on the tangentially related question of European cooperation.

    In examining intellectual origins of the French Revolution, this study will focus on the factors leading up to the revolt nobiliare of 1788-89: the first, or pre-phase, of the French Revolution that occurred when France's representative body, the Estates-General, met in May 1789 for the first time since 1614. Groundwork for this was laid when Benjamin Franklin built a Gallo-American revolutionary latticework to support the American Revolution that also provided a socio-political and intellectual foundation for the French Revolution over a decade later--a superstructure that not only accelerated the socio-political forces leading to revolution in France, but also survived that society-shattering event to crystallize into a new concept of European government: the precursor for the European phase of the New World Order.

    Though covering the events of the French Revolution is beyond the scope of this study, this examination will focus on the development of an idea--or rather, an idea system--and the Frenchmen and Americans who catalyzed successive steps in its formation: the process of republican reaction leading to the subsequent development of a new concept in European government.

    II. Periphery and Center

    Few present-day Americans may realize that France played as great a role in the American Revolution as the did the Americans themselves--a fact of which many eighteenth-century contemporaries, such as King Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin, were acutely aware. King Louis XVI later remarked upon it, as his government groaned under the cost of aiding the Americans during the American Revolution, when France supplied not only moral support to the Americans, but also the men, ships, and materiel that enabled the Comte de Grasse's French fleet to bottle up British commander Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia while Rochambeau's French forces, led by George Washington, circled in for the victory.

    It has been said that France aided the Americans for two reasons: (1) revenge against the British for France's previous defeat in the Seven Years War (the American phase of which was the French and Indian War), which took the form of French advocacy of American independence, and (2) the French desire of winning America to its side as a commercial trading partner (a desire transcending the American Revolution and the monarchy of Louis XVI to re-emerge as part of French foreign policy under the Directory and the Empire).

    But whereas those reasons served as superficial motivating factors, there was more to the Gallo-American alliance of 1778 than those reasons alone. The final, end benefit would be Europe helping America, and then America--as the Trilateral Center--finally helping Europe. Thus, whereas technically the American colonies still retained their status as the periphery of a European country, theoretically, America was the new center--the Trilateral Center of the emerging New World Order. Great Britain (the old center, the central hub of the wheel of commercial empire) was replaced--ideologically--by its own periphery, America, which later traded in goods and ideas with both Great Britain and France, thus forming the ideological and commercial centerpiece for these two major European nations. From henceforth in world affairs, there would be a two-way commercial and ideological alliance with America as the hub: America continuing to interact commercially and ideologically with Great Britain (as American had done in its colonial days), and America interacting commercially and ideologically with France, as well.

    This study proposes that the end effects of France aiding the American Revolution were both practical and ideological: That to some French philosophes, America literally was to serve as the training ground for future French republicans, and ultimately, to serve as the Great Exemplar of Utopia, Acadia, the New Atlantis--the New World Order--the republican world that France could become once revolution overturned the Ancien Regime. And the American Revolution was a prelude to that French Revolution that was to launch a world-wide revolutionary campaign to free oppressed peoples throughout the world by bringing them republican or democratic government, beginning with a stable, consolidated Concert of Europe, with America as its guiding force, its ideological inspiration--its Trilateral Center.

    During the 1770's-80's, certain Enlightened French noblemen and bourgeoisie assisted in the creation of, and then used, the United States of America as France's revolutionary outpost (and conversely, Americans like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were ready and willing to assist France in achieving its goal). The intertwining of French and American foreign affairs occurred with the blessings of prominent Enlightened Americans--particulary Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson--who enlisted the aid of the government of French King Louis XVI (specifically, the Enlightened foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes) to gain independence for America's future Republic.

    However, unknown to Louis XVI, creation of the United States was only a prelude to a chain reaction that resulted in a new French polity. Franklin and the ideological example of the American Revolution simultaneously prepared the substrate for the French Revolution that ultimately overthrew Louis XVI and crystallized into a sister republic. As soon as America gained her independence from Great Britain (with substantial French assistance), first Franklin and then Jefferson went on missions to France where they served as nuclei around which formed a latticework of interrelated or interconnected French revolutionary leaders, one of whom was Marie Joseph Paul Ives Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who, after fighting in the American Revolution, imported revolutionary ideology into his native France under Jefferson's guidance and inspiration. Products of the European Enlightenment, Franklin and Jefferson were station masters of France's American depot, as Lafayette was an agent of the French central station trained on the American revolutionary training ground. Seeding the revolutionary cloud was not a one-sided French venture, however. On the contrary: the seedtime of the French Revolution was during Benjamin Franklin's ministry to France--and that American was the seed-planter.

    III. Benjamin Franklin, Catalyst

    A corollary antithesis to the idea of Enlightenment spreading from Europe to America is this: republican ideology moved from Britain to America to France to Europe, transmitted by American carrier-catalysts who activated the Marquis de Lafayette, the Vicomte de Mirabeau, the Brissot de Warville, and others. Whereas Enlightenment spread from Europe to America, Revolution (or the concrete example of liberty, equality, and fraternity) spread from America to Europe--the reverse of the ideological current flowing through the earlier eighteenth century.

    In pre-Revolutionary France, probably the most visible trailblazer of republican ideology was Benjamin Franklin, the American minister to France from 1778 to 1785, without whose ministry the French Revolution might not have occurred when it did. But whereas the humble example of equality and fraternity he provided was American, the ideology he spread was international and cosmopolitan--which he learned from the British, as did other prominent Colonial Americans, as expressed in the language of official documents such as the Proclamation concerning an international peace treaty (1730) signed by Royal Colonial Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) (whom Benjamin Franklin knew and corresponded with).

    This cosmopolitan/internationalist ideology was previously embraced by certain of the French nobility who frequented the court of Louis XIV, the absolutist Sun King. Frustrated by their declining influence at the Sun King's court, those nobles created their own cosmopolitan society that shaped intellectual, political, and social trends for generations, and like their English ideological counterparts, promoted the Enlightenment--debatably, one intellectual cause of the French Revolution. Society players--the nobility of the Sword and the Robe and in the latter eighteenth-century, the middle class (bourgeoisie)--discussed philosophic, religious, and political ideas. This French "high society" was led by a few powerful members--chiefly the Duc de Saint-Simon, Duc de la Rochefoucauld, and the Duc de Noailles (President of the Council of Finances)--whose ideal form of government was British constitutional monarchy, and whose chief organizer was Saint-Simon's relative, the Comte de Boulainvilliers. The "civic religion" he promoted became the new ideological watchword of Enlightened nobles such as the Noailles family, the in-laws of the Marquis de Lafayette, during the reign of Louis XVI. The home of the Baron d'Holbach and the Paris salon of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld's mother became gathering places for future French Revolutionary figures such as Lafayette, Rochefoucauld himself, and Condorcet (a French philosopher, or philosophe, who was raised by the Duc de Rouchefaucauld as his own son). Whereas D'Holbach's Coterie--whose philosophy of liberty, equality, religious tolerance, and checks on the monarchy was propagated by philosophe-members Voltaire, d'Alembert, Diderot, Condorcet, and La Close--lacked sufficient means to produce the Revolution itself, their civic religion merely completed the process of ushering in republican government that was begun by certain of the nobility and the bourgeoisie.

    Unlike in England, where Lockean-inspired Whig politics was pretty much taken for granted by the end of the eighteenth century, in France, such "civic religion" of liberty, equality, and religious tolerance was anti-monarchical to all but enlightened monarchs. With them, royalty and nobility was allied with Enlightenment philosophy, such as in the case of King Gustavus III of Sweden and King Frederick William II of Prussia. Perhaps the most vociferous royal Enlightened adherent, however, was France's duc d'Orleans (the future Philippe Egalite), who was advised by Boulainvilliers and Saint-Simon during the reign of Louis XV--a period marked by the parlements' constitutional demand for union des classes--the union of all the parlements into a representative government body--in response to which the king upbraided the parlements on March 3, 1766.

    But, thus far, the Enlightened nobility's ideology seemed intangible. What they needed was a tangible example to catalyze their thoughts. The American Revolution was their supreme example, but even America was far away across the water, like a risen Atlantis. To reproduce the Atlantic experiment--which ultimately, in the twentieth century, was to turn into the Atlantic coalition--in their own Western Europe, the French needed not only republican ideology, but also a physical presence to set their reaction going. That presence was Benjamin Franklin.

    As American minister to France from 1778-1785, Franklin's initial objective was to persuade the king's ministers, Vergennes and Turgot, to finance the American Revolution. But the activities of Franklin on which we concentrate here were those relating to the secondary effect produced by his visit: he, knowingly or unknowingly, was to act as a messenger from France's republican outpost, America. Thus, Franklin served as a propagandist of the enlightened ideology piped into America by English Whig rhetoric through the activities of writers such as Franklin's friend Thomas Paine (a future member of the French National Convention) and through Franklin's many enlightened associates. As the leader of the American Philosophical Society and America's only world-famous philosopher, it was only natural for Franklin to spread his republican ideology among the friends he knew the best: his fellow French philosophers. Accordingly, he used the philosophes as a verbal channel for his ideas: they provided him with an audience to which he could present himself as the prime example of the American Ideal: humble, noble, and enlightened.

    In Franklin's eyes, that image or ideal was good for both America and France: it inculcated French support for Americans, and the Gallo-American alliance of 1778 initiated the floating idea of noble revolution among the French intellectuals who flocked to Franklin's side at the Passy mansion of Madame Helvetius, among other places. That the various intellectual discussion groups were interlocked was evidenced by Madame Helvetius' association with the D'Holbach coterie, whose circle also included Franklin's associate, the philosophe Condorcet, as well as one translator of Franklin publications, Abbe Morellet. Franklin impressed them all through his humble appearance and witty conversation, which made him the social leader of Paris. From 1779-1781 Franklin was the natural leader of a group founded by Abbe Robin, a Frenchman in Rochambeau's American Revolutionary army. (He was but one example of the many Frenchmen who were trained to be revolutionaries by fighting on America's revolutionary training ground, during the American Revolution, who then returned to France, bringing with them the philosophy of natural rights and resistance to tyranny they learned from the Declaration of Independence (precursor of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man) and Thomas Paine's Common Sense (1776).

    French soldiers' reactions to the American Revolution generally took one of two forms: (1) either they, like the Vicomte de Mirabeau and the Marquis de Lafayette, went to America in the spirit of adventure, or (2) like the French philosophes in the D'Holbach-Orleans coterie, they revered America as the ideal land of liberty--the concrete fulfillment of Enlightenment philosophy. To them, America was a land of civic virtue--full of natural religion, natural rights, rebirth, and reform--in short, the romantic vision of Utopia. Franklin's D'Holbach-Orleans associate, Condorcet, expressed the philosophes' great hope: that the American Republic would initiate a chain reaction of world renewal that ultimately would culminate in democracy. Indeed, the United States Constitution later gave the French a blueprint for reform that increased French republicanism and served as a model for the French Constitution of 1791.

    Condorcet was echoed by an American supporter of the French Revolution, Joel Barlow, who believed the United States was of symbolic significance to future world peace by inspiring the Atlantic nations to form a democratic confederation. Barlow dedicated his poems to Franklin's old friend, the Duc de la Rochefoucauld. The Utopian vision was further promoted and propagated by a deluge of American literature (such as Benjamin Franklin's own Poor Richard stories) and French literature (such as J. Mandrillon's Le Spectateur americain (1784), which advised Americans to adopt a republican calendar (foreshadowing future French revolutionaries). Inspired by the example set by the American Revolution, this publication proclaimed that to fight tyrants for the sake of liberty was a noble cause. Such was the sentiment that later produced the French Revolution.

    But Franklin provided a tangible example for Frenchmen. His Poor Richard stories, combined with his simple dress, made him the perfect personification of the Quaker component of the American Ideal--the idea that America was populated by virtuous, freedom-loving Quakers who fought the tyranny of the king and safeguarded against the establishment of a state religion. One of the propagators of the American Ideal was Franklin's French friend, Hector Saint-Jean de Crevecoeur. After all, the reasoning went, if the pious Quakers threw off tyranny, then Frenchmen, too, could become noble republicans. This created a mindset among the French that justified their later revolutionary behavior--a thought pattern that Franklin encouraged. In the social clubs, Franklin spread the theory of natural rights and natural religion (worship of the "Great Architect of the Universe"). Both verbally and through his many pamphlets printed at Helvetius' mansion in Passy, Franklin preached the ideology of liberty, equality, and fraternity, as well as respect for reason, both scientific, political, and constitutional, which catalyzed a desire within the French Enlightened nobility for more liberty to express their views, and within the French bourgeoisie, for equality in society and more fraternity with the nobility through an increased political role. Franklin thus changed the formerly Anglophile enlightened nobility and bourgeoisie, who followed Montesquieu and Voltaire's lead in venerating England, into admirers of America. Franklin thus became the main revolutionary organizer in pre-Revolutionary France, and he helped make enlightened republican ideas common currency by the time the Assembly of Notables met in 1787.

    The supportive structure for revolutionary ideas built by Benjamin Franklin remained even after he left France. Activated by Franklin, the chain reaction begun by the revolutionaries with the Notables' meetings in 1787-1788 culminated in a French revolutionary product. The walls of this crystalline latticework were Franklin's network of French associates--a Franklin-healed union of the formerly divided followers of Rosseau and Voltaire--some of whose names read like a roster of the French Revolution: the Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Condorcet, Raynal, Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, Georges Jacques Danton, and the Abbe Sieyes. The French philosophers Rousseau and Voltaire were dead, but the American philosopher Franklin lived, to inspire the next generation. By the time his work in America was finished, he had transmitted the concept of constitutional government from America to France. As one of the three American Commissioners in France, Franklin was also responsible for recommending to the American Continental Congress the names of French soldiers who desired to fight on behalf of American independence. One of those recommended was the Marquis de Lafayette, who, inspired by his American experience under George Washington, would return to France to play a major role in the French Revolution. Lafayette acted as Franklin's representative before the French court during 1782-1783. He was one of the Franklin-inspired allies who served as links between the thought of ideology and the action of the French revolutionaries of 1787-1789.

    IV. European Crystallization

    Lafayette's comrade in arms during the American Revolution, French philosopher Henri, Comte de Saint-Simon, later identified the five stages of the eighteenth-century Atlantic Revolutions. (As one of the French soldiers trained on the American revolutionary training ground under Rochambeau, Lafayette, and Washington, Saint-Simon recognized that the American Revolution catalyzed the French Revolution.) For Saint-Simon, one of the products of the American Revolution, the nineteenth century was to be a time of construction. Two of the French Revolution's main ideological goals had been universalism--the inculcation of civic virtue and a feeling of being a "Citizen of the World" rather than of any one country--and constitutional monarchy based on the British model of representative government. Unfortunately, when the French Revolution went too far and radicals seized power, the revolutionary focus changed from international to national, a turning inward rather than exporting constitutional government outward to the oppressed peoples of Europe. This had fostered the rise of nationalism, of la patrie, throughout Europe, but, Saint-Simon told the delegates to the Congress of Vienna in 1814, the peoples of Europe needed an international government--a European community--in which national patriotism gave way to a "European patriotism."

    Predicting the eventual failure of Congressional meetings alone, Saint-Simon presented a solution representing a return to constitutional monarchy--only on a Europe-wide scale. To keep the balance of power in Europe required a European "federal community" with a constitutional system of checks and balances, based on civic virtue (civic religion). The ideal constitutional model was the English Constitution, and the ideal political model was the British Parliament. According to Saint-Simon, all European nations should be governed by national parliaments, with a Pan-European parliament to govern a European community of united European nations. Not only might Saint-Simon's ideas (expressed in his pamphlet, Reorganisations de la Societe Europeene ("The Reorganization of the European Community"), delivered to the Congress of Vienna before it met in 1814), have influenced the Congress of Vienna to incorporate in the Concert of Europe in the interest of world peace, but also Saint-Simon, through the "League of Peace" proposals of his follower Lemonnier, must be given the credit for formulating ideas that resulted in the League of Nations (1918-1919), which in turn laid the groundwork for the present United Nations.

    But then, even Saint-Simon was catalyzed by Americans--including, perhaps, Benjamin Franklin. Saint-Simon's cosmopolitanism was derived largely from Condorcet, translator of the Utopian view of America into the Utopian view of France. After the French Revolution failed to achieve this goal, the American Ideal became the European Ideal. An early proponent of the concept of an Atlantic community, Condorcet, like Saint-Simon, created the idea of a scientific, universal state formed by the union of France, England, and America (the leaders of the Atlantic community, which in turn would lead the rest of the world to follow progressive ideas). Together, these three (with America forming a Trilateral Center between the other two) would civilize the rest of the world. That exportation of republican and democratic ideology throughout the world would result, given enough time, with all nations and peoples attaining the same level of enlightened progress as in the countries of the Atlantic community. That was the model of the American Ideal.

    (Indeed, between 1770-1799, there was an interlinked process of Atlantic revolutions. Revolution began in Geneva in 1768, then the American colonies (1776-1783), then Ireland (1780) and Geneva again (1780-1783), Holland (1783), Belgium (1787), and France (1788-1799).)

    V. The European Community concept began--with Benjamin Franklin

    However, before Saint-Simon's writing, the model of the European Community was printed by Benjamin Franklin at his press at Passy: A Project of Universal and Perpetual Peace (1782), whose authorship is uncertain. It was attributed to Pierre-Andre Gargaz, a former French galley slave, but it is possible that, since the proposal received favor from Louis XVI's minister, Vergennes, that Franklin might at least have been a co-author. The pamphlet's proposal was presented to Thomas Jefferson, Franklin's successor as American minister to the court of France (1785-1789); to the king's brother, and to the king's Council of State. This Franklin-published plan was a simplified, more republican version of the concept later presented by Saint-Simon. In the Franklin-published plan, there would be a permanent European Congress, headed by a President and containing one mediator for each sovereign. Among its features were a standing army and internal improvement plans.

    In printing the pamphlet, Franklin, then, like the United States itself, was a catalyst accelerating European cooperation as well as European revolution. "European crystallization" is used here to mean the process of refining and defining ideology, to make it more clear. It is the final phase--the endpoint--of the process begun by the alliance between France and the American Trilateral Center.

    VI. Conclusion

    America was the beginning, the first step in the reaction. American agents were the catalysts of the next revolution in the chain: that of France. French Revolution resulted in the intermediate steps toward the endpoint: European consolidation. The intermediate step was the French Enlightenment, whose intellectual descendants triumphed in the nineteenth century. Though many factors made the American Revolution the precursor of the French Revolution--e.g., subsidizing the American Revolution contributed significantly to France's economic woes--a key American ideological organizer was Benjamin Franklin. He catalyzed many changes and united many friends, who interacted after Franklin's departure to produce France's pre-Revolutionary phase. Franklin showed them how to act through the existing matrix of their social clubs, places of companionship and philosophical discussion. This party of constitutionalists seeded the cloud of revolution that led to the Declaration of the Rights of Man--once again, an American analogue. The American Ideal survived to triumphantly resurface during the nineteenth century, with Saint-Simon's Reorganization of the European Community. The nations of Europe formed their democratic governments following in the footsteps of the United States of America. Eventually, in the twentieth century, this led to the European Community, and the United Nations. The United States of America still serves as the Trilateral Center--now not just for Great Britain and France, but for Europe--and, in the twenty-first century, for the rest of the world.


Jonathan Belcher: Governor in the Emerging Trilateral Center of the New World Order


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