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Thomas Jefferson’s New Old World: The Development of “Europe” as a Political Concept in Jefferson’s Political Thought

Armin Mattes

Pages 401 - 421



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This article argues that “Europe” as a political concept emerged to a significant degree not in Europe itself but in the United States, and more specifically in Thomas Jefferson’s writings of the Age of Revolution (and in those of some of his political allies, such as Thomas Paine and Joel Barlow). It did so in two ways. First, in the wake of the American Revolution, many Americans constructed a new “American” national identity in opposition to Europe. Consequently, “Europe” became re-conceptualized as the “Old World” antithesis to the United States. This “Old World” concept of Europe was, however, just as conceptually new as their imagined American “New World.” Second, following the outbreak of the French Revolution, Jeffersonian thinkers in particular hoped or even expected Europe to follow the American example and accordingly began envisioning “Europe” as a democratic and federal European Union along U.S. lines.

Keywords: Europe; Jefferson; Age of Revolution; New World-Old World; conceptual change

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