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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

D - The Poussin Affair



Alexis de Tocqueville became Minister of Foreign Affairs on June 2, 1849. He occupied this office for barely five months. Two areas of foreign policy most preoccupied Tocqueville during this brief period: the so-called Roman affair, where France dispatched an expeditionary force with the dual aim of restoring the temporal power of the Pope and of imposing liberal institutions on central Italy; the repression of the Hungarian rising and the fate of its defeated supporters (which included Lajos Kossuth) seeking asylum in Turkey. However, events in the New World also attracted Tocqueville's attention in the form of the so-called Poussin Affair.

Guillaume-Tell Poussin was born in France around 1795. With the fall of Napoléon, he left for America and in 1817 became a topographical engineer in the United States Army. He subsequently became a naturalized American citizen but later returned to France. In 1841, he published Considérations sur le Principe démocratique qui régit l'Union Américaine et d'autres états. In essence, this was a detailed commentary upon Tocqueville's Democracy in America, written by a man who, as he immediately told his readers, claimed to know more about America than his illustrious compatriot. In 1848 he played a decisive role in convincing Richard Rush, U. S. Minister to France, to recognize the new French Republic. The following year, when Poussin was appointed French Minister in Washington, D.C., his appointment was warmly welcomed by the American administration as, in the words of President James K. Polk, “a new pledge of the friendly feelings of the French Republic.