FRANKLIN IN THE AMERICAN MIRAGE
OF THE RISORGIMENTO
EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY Italians necessarily saw America through a mist of illuministic prejudices. Although somewhat less inclined than some other European groups to overlook history and reality,1 the Italians of the age of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau were concerned primarily with the same universal philosophical problem of defining in rational terms man and his earthly lot. The issues of liberty, equality, and fraternity were thus debated habitually from a broad, humanitarian point of view. The American Revolution seemed the spearhead of a great crusade destined to bring about the terrestrial paradise envisioned by the philosophers; and the various Jacobin governments set up in Italy in the wake of the French Revolution were animated in the main by ideals of universal justice and brotherhood.
Notwithstanding the global propensities common to Enlightenment thought, recent historical investigation has found in the eighteenth century many of the roots of the Risorgimento, that movement through which Italy achieved national self-consciousness, and, after a crescendo of political and military action, identity as a unified, sovereign nation. It is therefore not surprising that Italian interest in the events of the American Revolution should furnish significant clues to the first stirrings of the patriotic spirit. The Italians at first stood aghast at the spectacle of the Americans locked in combat with England, idolized as the least decadent of European nations. Gradually the realization dawned that the Americans, far from sacrificing themselves for universal ideals, were fighting for their own lives, their own homes, their own values; and that one had to go back to the Catos, Brutuses, and Fabiuses of antiquity to find an analogue for their moving spirit. Here and there a perspicacious commentator glimpsed the truth--the anonymous reporter, for example, who observed in the Roman Literary Ephemerides in the year 1776:2 "A people arises from the depths of the New World, who, sustained by this true feeling of patriotism which is not even understood among us, will be able to renew the example of those ancient nations which, sustained by this animating spirit, were capable of everything." Implicitly or explicitly, Franklin had his place in such considerations. A Milanese, writing on the subject Concerning the Love for One's Country shortly after the end of the American Revolution,3 cited Franklin as an example to illus