Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 30
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: July 1992 Volume 30 Number 3, Pages 117–121
General Pasquale Paoli and Corsica: At the Heart of Three Revolutions
(This article is an address given by Georges Coanet, secretary-general of the Pasquale Paoli Foundation in Corsica, on the occasion of his visit to Paoli in April of this year.)
I thank you most heartily for the cordial welcome you have extended to my wife and me, a humble adopted Corsican promoted by circumstances to the position of "ambassador" for the Pasquale Paoli Foundation and spokesman for a distant isle. It, like your nation and your town, may be referred to as one of the cradles of Liberty.
This formidable task has been entrusted to me by the noted English historian and president of our Foundation, Dorothy Carrington, now also a resident of Corsica. (Even more formidable, however -- and of this Mrs. Carrington is aware -- is the difficulty I experience in properly manipulating the tongue of George Washington!)
First of all, I should like to extend to the Board and members of the Paoli Business and Professional Association and, through them, to all the citizens of the most symbolic of the American "Paoli" cities, the cordial greetings of the Pasquale Paoli Foundation.
These very words cause a rush of emotion within me, as each Corsican who comes here to a town called Paoli feels somewhat at home here. Before me, the former mayor of Morosaglia, the birthplace of Pasquale Paoli, similarly knew this warm sensation. (It surely is not just to celebrate the quincentenary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World that I have come here to speak with you!)
America, France, and its territory of Corsica have an important common historical heritage, one which is linked with the world-wide blossoming of Democracy. It is a heritage that must be revived and maintained!
Some of the most important points regarding the revolutionary history of the 18th century, and the results that were established, still remain undisclosed, despite the titanic research and the number of publications which have been devoted to them in the past two hundred years, on both sides of the Atlantic. For obscure reasons, a large part of Corsican history -- that of the generalship of Pasquale Paoli from 1755 to 1769 and the long-range repercussions of his work and principles -- has been almost entirely eclipsed and ignored by "official" historians, in Europe, in America, and even in France.
Thus the Pasquale Paoli Foundation, supported by many eminent English, Italian, American, and Canadian scholars specializing in this period of history, has set for itself the objective of "enriching the extant body of knowledge of General Paoli, and re-establishing the universal regard which this 'enlightenment man', the father of the Corsican fatherland, enjoyed in the eighteenth century".
To this end we have worked now for three years, engaging in research and scholarship, and organizing lectures and exhibits. The publicizing of this effort has begun to draw a wider audience than just the intellectual elite already interested.
My own modest part in this exercise has been more that of a "journalist of the past" than that of an historian, having worked on a project consisting of three complementary ideas.
The first of these has been to write a biography of Paoli, based on factual documentation but executed in a very popular style. It is in the form of a series of cinematographic sequences -- in short, the basis of a script for a television series, the elaborate production of which hopefully might interest European or American television networks. The book, entitled Les 14 Juillet de Pasquale Paoli, has, in the last three years, sold quite successfully, but the TV production, planned since 1989 by the French network "Antenne Secund", has, however, not been so lucky.
The second project was to examine closely the most secret archives to construct a thesis on the common philosophical sources of the constitutional and revolutionary processes established in Corsica, France, and the United States of America. (The correction of the proofs of this work was completed less than a month ago.)
The idea was to gather the disparate international threads of the "conspiracy" for Liberty, social Equality, and universal Fraternity.
I shall in a moment present to you an account of this thesis. I shall approach it with caution, however, as it directly concerns the birth of the Constitution of the United States, your Constitution, and it may seem paradoxical, nay disrespectful, that an "amateur" historian and foreigner should approach this sacred subject.
The third part of my project is to edit a supplement to Les 14 Juillet de_Pasquale Paoli which, in effect, will be a close-up of the entire scenario. It will tell the story of those Corsican soldiers who were exiled from their homeland and joined forces with the insurgents during the War of Independence, and from their first struggle for Liberty anticipated the two final expeditions of Lafayette.
This part of the project remains unfinished. I rely on its completion, far from the beaten literary track, on the help of American friends of the Paoli Foundation. It is only thus that we may expect to complete the ambitious international television production which will serve as a reminder that the American and Corsican peoples are brothers in both blood and spirit.
I shall now attempt to summarize my rather long thesis on the common philosophical sources of the constitutional and revolutionary processes established in Corsica, France, and the United States of America. It is still, to some degree, hypothetical. I have entitled it Insurgents Remember Paoli, a Corsican Reading of the Revolutionary and Philosophical History of the Age of Enlightenment.
History tells us that the political and philosophical principles of Paoli inspired the American "Sons of Liberty". Is it therefore equally possible that the Corsican Constitution of 1755 could, in one way or another, have served as a model for the creators of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia thirty years later?
One answer to this question has already been provided by Thomas Jefferson when he stated, "Our Constitution owes nothing to foreign influences; it is a pure product of the American Mind."
But is this the unshakeable truth?
We begin our discussion with a statement of fact: in each the American, the French, and the Corsican texts which describe each of these country's revolutionary strategies we see the same ethical values, expressed in the same manner. The preambles to the Constitution of Paoli's "Republican Monarchy", the American "Declaration of Independence" in 1776, and the French "Declaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen" in 1789 complement each other. The seeds of the Enlightenment Spirit are evident in the same way in each of them.
Even more worthy of attention is the similarity of the revolutionary procedures adopted by each of the would-be nations, and the fact that, before the French annexation, Corsica had established and introduced a real revolutionary model:
One: The proclamation of the Rights of Men to Dignity, to Liberty, and to Equality, each of which is fundamental to Independence;
Two: The struggle for freedom and to achieve these Rights, and the effort to unite the people by and around a constitutional project;
Three: The tendency to universalize the rules of democratic Humanism in the refusing of all tyrannies.
Let us note that the democratic experience of Corsica from 1755 to 1769, as documented in James Boswell's "bestseller" An_ Account of Corsica, contains all the elements of most western struggles for national and social freedom. The Irish, Spanish, Georgian and Turkish "Sons of Liberty", as well as those of the English colonies in America, all wished to follow the example of Paoli.
At the same time, all the enlightened persons, in both Europe and America, were expressing their admiration for the Corsican general, and analyzing the promise of future upheavel.
You know these men! In Europe it was Jean-Jacques Rousseau', who, speaking of Corsica, predicted that "One day, this small island will astonish the world". It was Voltaire, who condemned the French repression in Corsica and who spoke of "the Glory of Paoli". It was Frederick II, the philosopher- King of Prussia, and Catherine the Great of Russia.
In England, it was the critic Dr. Samuel Johnson, and the journalist John WiIkes, who supported the movement for the "Friends of Liberty". And, of course, it was Thomas Paine, who sowed the seeds of the idea of "Common Sense" in America.
At the same time, America, suffering under the "infamous" taxes of the Crown of England, sought out theorists and leaders of its revolution-to-be. These were found in Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.
Knowing all this, it remains to be discovered why, where, and how these men of destiny could come together to define the universal rules of Democracy, along the lines of Paoli's inspiration.
To dissipate this mystery I have had to search through the most secret archives of a universally widespread institution, and I have verified that all the authors and executors of the greatest political upheavel of contemporary history have been members of the Free Masons, or at least "roadside" companions of this philosophical and philanthropic institution.
It is therefore my thesis that the constitutional "conspiracy" was inaugurated far from the battle fields of the War of Independence, in two European Masonic houses which were spiritually linked. One was the Lodge of "Nine Muses", in London, where both Paoli and Dr. Johnson were residents. The other was the Lodge of "Nine Sisters" (the Lodge des "Neuf Soeurs") in Paris. It initiated and welcomed among its Masters Voltaire, Mirabeau, Sietes, Lafayette, Condorcet, and ... Benjamin Franklin, ambassador of the war-torn American states. Here also was Pierre-Augustin Caron, Marquess of Beaumarchais, a dramatist, journalist, secret agent and arms dealer for the American insurgents, and friend of Mozart, the most famous Austrian Free Mason.
Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin did not come to Paris only to obtain for the endangered American Revolution the military and economic aid of Louis XVI and France. They were also charged, by the Secret Committee of Congress, to perform a special mission: to bring together the "great minds" of the imminent French Revolution, to reflect on the basis of the Constitution of the United States to be. The year was 1778.
At a later date, a work group which was organized for this discussion set itself up in a small village in eastern France, Saint-Die, far from the indiscretions of Parisian life. It was here, in the country-house of a modest Masonic Lodge, which was then known as the Lodge of "the Incorruptable Brothers", that the textual basis of the Constitution was drawn up. Unfortunately, this text has disappeared with all the archives of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
The Lodge at Saint-Die now bears the name of its most famous member of the 19th century, Jules Ferry. It was this Frenchman who, on the occasion of the centenary of the Declaration of Independence, brought to the American people the famous statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World". (Both Ferry and the sculptor, Frederic Bartholdi, incidentally, were Free Masons.)
In closing, I would like to make two other observations.
In July 1969 the American astronaut "Buzz" Aldrin, on his return from the fantastic Apollo and the second mission, wrote a letter to his Masonic brothers at Saint-Die "in memory of the common philosophic roots of the French and American nations".
And why, to this day, does the United States paper dollar carry always the Masonic emblem of the Triangle of Light and the Eye of Science?
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