Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 December 2020
Historians have in recent years become increasingly involved in bringing together the experience of Europeans, and indeed people all over the world, during the Age of Revolution (1750-1850). To be sure, Robert Palmer and Jacques Godechot introduced an Atlantic dimension to the map in the 1960s. However, the reception of their work was somewhat mixed and the French Revolution, like contemporary events elsewhere, was subsequently studied from an internal point of view for the most part. Yet this was to ignore its transnational dimension, which is now attracting renewed interest and forms the subject of the essays collected in this volume. Above all, the expansion of la Grande Nation after 1795 had a direct impact on neighbouring territories, integrating some areas of the Low Countries, the Rhineland, and Alpine territory into the French Republic while proclaiming Sister Republics elsewhere. However, revolutionary expansionism was by no means a one-way process, especially at the outset, when the affiliated peoples along the eastern border of France, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, were allowed significant latitude in the regimes they created. There was, as a result, considerable interaction between the experiments conducted in these Sister Republics and developments in the metropole, which offer the potential for a fascinating study in transnationalism.
The three chapters in this section focus on a particular aspect of this phenomenon, namely that of constitution-making in the Dutch, Swiss, and Neapolitan Republics, together with the parliamentary practices that accompanied it. There were, of course, substantial differences between these three, diverse locations, above all in so far as the Neapolitans were still in the process of discussing a document when their short-lived republic was curtailed in 1799 and the old monarchy restored. In the Dutch and Swiss Republics, by contrast, constitutions were elaborated, although in both cases the French were to impose their own versions later. Nonetheless, in all three instances, constitutional cultures emerged which, though they were influenced by developments in France, would also carry an indigenous character. Conversely, the experiments in the Sister Republics, which often bore a more authoritarian stamp than the French Constitution of the Year III (1795), fed into the subsequent Constitution of the Year VIII (1799) on which the Napoleonic Consulate was based.