Remembering Napoleon: Americans and the French Emperor in the 1820s and 1830s Nadine Klopfer
Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal Volume 18, Number 4, Fall 2020. pp. 525-560
In the 1820s and 1830s, many Americans were fascinated by Napoleon. After his death in 1821, biographies of the French emperor circulated widely in the United States and Jacques-Louis David's painting of his coronation attracted visitors throughout the country. Conduct books lauded the emperor's character, and travelers to France enthusiastically recounted viewing the fallen hero's robes. Against the backdrop of an age that saw both the much-lauded rise of the common man and endeavors to culturally disentangle the United States from Europe, this fascination with a foreign emperor is intriguing. Telling the story of Napoleon as a success story of self-making, however, allowed Americans across party lines to ease tensions between the ongoing appeal of courtly glamour and republican ideals. Acknowledging that this emperor was a self-made man seemed to legitimize the enthrallment with imperial pomp. At the same time, in the context of American westward expansion, the rise of an entertainment culture, and the emerging culture of selffashioning, the French emperor became a lens through which to view contemporary questions of revolution and empire, glamour and spectacle, upward mobility, and the structure of the young nation's social fabric.