Cast of Characters
George Washington: Legendary general and America’s first president, elected twice unanimously. Inscrutable, taciturn, and visionary. Allied with the Federalists.
Had to weather the Genet affair and the Whiskey Rebellion.
Alexander Hamilton: Washington’s first Secretary of the Treasury and creator of capitalism and a strong federal government. Deeply suspicious of the French Revolution and the leader of the Federalists. The greatest American never to become president. Clashed repeatedly with Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson: Washington’s Secretary of State, Adams’s vice president, and America’s third president. Wrote the Declaration of Independence, advised the French revolutionaries, a supporter of state’s rights and an enemy of Kings. Working behind the scenes, he maneuvered repeatedly against President Washington and helped found the opposition Republican Party. A lifelong slaveholder. Sublime and charismatic.
James Madison: Sober and silent, and arguably the father of the Constitution. Once a Washington protégé, allied himself with Jefferson and became the leader of the House Republicans, frequently working against Washington and Hamilton. America’s fourth president.
Gouverneur Morris: Wry, witty, and aristocratic, he was a central drafter of the Constitution, and a close friend of Washington’s. As envoy to France, was one of the keenest observers of the French Revolution.
Benjamin Franklin: World-famous inventor, statesmen, diplomat and American politician. Beloved in France, even in Versailles itself. Signed all of America’s founding documents. His last act in public life was to petition the new Congress to free the slaves.
John Paul Jones: America’s legendary sailor, world traveler, and regarded as the founder of America’s Navy. After fighting the Revolutionary War, later fought under Catherine the Great in her quest to subdue the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Died a sad, pitiful death in Paris in the midst of the Revolution.
Thomas Paine: World-renowned pamphleteer who helped inspire the American rebels in their quest for freedom. Later joined the French Assembly during the Revolution, and was himself slated for the guillotine.
John Adams: America’s second president. Brilliant, thin-skinned, austere. His administration was completely consumed by the threat of war with France.
King Louis XVI: King of France from the age of 20 and regarded as the Godfather of the United States. Married to Marie Antoinette. Weak and indecisive, he had modern, reformist instincts but lost control of the Revolution. Later guillotined. His final days were remarkably poignant.
Queen Marie Antoinette: Austrian by birth, led a reactionary clique that opposed the Revolution in France at every step along the way. Frivolous and beautiful, she too died a poignant death at the guillotine.
Marquis de Lafayette: Against Louis XVI’s wishes sailed to America to fight with the American rebels against the British. Became like an adopted son to Washington. In vain, sought to export American republicanism to the French Revolution. Had to flee for his life and ended up rotting in an Austrian prison.
Jean Paul Marat: Radical publisher and Jacobin. Was one of the central forces driving the violence and bloodshed behind the Revolution. Was assassinated in his bathtub.
Georges Danton: One of the ruling triumvirate of the Revolution. Pronounced that “terror should be the order of the day” but after the September massacres and the beheading of the Girondins, came to believe the Revolution had gone too far. Fell out of favor with Robespierre and was guillotined.
Maximilien Robespierre: Jacobin most identified with the bloody excesses of the Terror and first among equals of the infamous Committee of Public Safety. After outmaneuvering all his rivals, he himself was guillotined in 1794, thus ending the worst excesses of the Revolution.
The Comte de Segur: French envoy who fought with the Americans, knew George Washington, and later became a treasured confidant to Empress Catherine the Great in Russia before returning to join the Revolution in France.
Citizen Genet: French envoy to Russia who was ejected by Catherine the Great. Was then sent by France’s radical government to America, where he sought to foment revolution and fell on the wrong side of George Washington.
Napoleon Bonaparte: Charismatic young French general whose forces swept through Europe. Later sought to subdue the Middle East but was eventually routed by the British. Rushed back to Paris where he came to power in a bloody coup.
Empress Catherine the Great: Ruler of Russia who helped midwife American independence, became one of the dominant forces on the world stage, and sought to crush both the Islamic Ottoman Empire and the French Revolution. Once an idol of the philosophes, later wiped the ancient Polish Kingdom off the face of the map.
Prince Grigory Potemkin: Catherine’s lover and likely secret husband who acted as her de facto prime minister.
Marshall Suvorov: Famed Russian general who led Catherine’s forces to blood-soaked victories against the Ottomans as well as the French.
Emelyan Pugachev: Cossack who led a two-year massive rebellion that nearly upended Catherine. Was known to American rebels contemplating their own insurrection.
Sultan Selim III: Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Stanislas Poniatowski: Catharine’s former lover and king of Poland.
Thaddeus Kosciuszko: Friend of Washington’s and Jefferson’s who fought with distinction in the American Revolutionary War. Heroically sought to lead the Poles to American-style freedom against Catherine’s forces, but was eventually routed by Suvorov.
Joseph II: Enlightened Emperor of Austria and Marie Antoinette’s brother. Allied himself with Catherine in the war against the Ottoman Empire.
William Pitt the Younger: Prime minister of Britain
Voltaire: Most famous of Enlightenment philosophes and admirer of Catherine’s. Knew Benjamin Franklin.
Montesquieu: Philosophe who alternately inspired both the Americans during the Constitutional debates as well as Empress Catherine the Great.
Rousseau: Philosopher of the Enlightenment who expressed the principle of the “General Will,” which did so much to galvanize the later movement for democracy.
Jay Winik is one of the nation's leading historians and the author of the New York Times bestsellers April 1865 and The Great Upheaval. read more »
Media & Events
- Interview by Edward Morris in BookPage
- “An Historic Birth” - Interview in The National Review
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