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Nationalizing France's Army

Foreign, Black, and Jewish Troops in the French Military, 1715-1831
Christopher J. Tozzi

BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813938332 · $45.00 · May 2016
BUY Ebook · 320 pp. · ISBN 9780813938349 · $45.00 · May 2016

Before the French Revolution, tens of thousands of foreigners served in France’s army. They included troops from not only all parts of Europe but also places as far away as Madagascar, West Africa, and New York City. Beginning in 1789, the French revolutionaries, driven by a new political ideology that placed "the nation" at the center of sovereignty, began aggressively purging the army of men they did not consider French, even if those troops supported the new regime. Such efforts proved much more difficult than the revolutionaries anticipated, however, owing to both their need for soldiers as France waged war against much of the rest of Europe and the difficulty of defining nationality cleanly at the dawn of the modern era. Napoleon later faced the same conundrums as he vacillated between policies favoring and rejecting foreigners from his army. It was not until the Bourbon Restoration, when the modern French Foreign Legion appeared, that the French state established an enduring policy on the place of foreigners within its armed forces.

By telling the story of France’s noncitizen soldiers—who included men born abroad as well as Jews and blacks whose citizenship rights were subject to contestation—Christopher Tozzi sheds new light on the roots of revolutionary France’s inability to integrate its national community despite the inclusionary promise of French republicanism. Drawing on a range of original, unpublished archival sources, Tozzi also highlights the linguistic, religious, cultural, and racial differences that France’s experiments with noncitizen soldiers introduced to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French society.

Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Work of Scholarship in Eighteenth-Century Studies


Nationalizing France's Army uses a wealth of research, presented with admirable clarity and much interesting detail, to explain the changing place of foreigners, Jews, and blacks in the French army across the watershed years of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.

Howard G. Brown, Binghamton University, State University of New York, author of War, Revolution, and the Bureaucratic State: Politics and Army Administration in France, 1791–1799

Tozzi's award-winning book on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the armies of revolutionary France offers an entirely new approach to the fraught relationship between universal values and national identity unleashed in 1789. Nationalizing France’s Army goes well beyond traditional military history to engage with one of the revolutionary era’s most problematic legacies.

Rafe Blaufarb, Florida State University, author of The French Army, 1750–1820: Careers, Talent, Merit

[T]his meticulously researched and engagingly written work exemplifies the (now not so) "new" military history with its focus on the relationship between war and society. It will richly reward readers interested in the history not just of war, but of citizenship, race, and cultural exchange in Europe during the age of revolutions.

Michigan War Studies Review

"This meticulously researched and engagingly written work exemplifies the (not now so) "new" military history with its focus on the relationship between war and society. It will richly reward readers interested in the history not just of war but of citizenship, race, and cultural exchange in Europe during the age of revolutions."

Christine Haynes, UNC Charlotte · Michigan War Studies

[T]he contribution of this book to scholarship goes far beyond the realm of traditional military history. Tozzi has produced not only an important study of the role of foreign, black and Jewish soldiers in the revolutionary and Napoleonic armies, but also an interesting and valuable contribution to discussions on the relationship of universalism to nationalism during the fraught years of the early Revolution. It is impressively researched, intelligently presented, and makes an important fresh contribution to the study of the Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.


In addition to its broader arguments on soldiering and citizenship, Nationalizing France’s Army also provides moving portraits of many individual officers and their great service to Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. From the Irish generals Jacques O’Moran and Thomas Ward (who served in the French Army but were guillotined in 1794), to the Guadeloupian colonel Joseph-Bologne de Saint-George (the first black colonel to command troops in Europe) and his Haitian lieutenant Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas), to Anselme Nordon (the first Jewish officer in the French Army, in 1792) and Léopold Sée (France’s first Jewish general, in 1870), these individual officers and their collective service represent the largely unrecognized diversity on which modern France was founded and which Christopher Tozzi’simpressive book documents, celebrates and honours.

French History

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