Joel Barlow, American Diplomat and Nation Builder


Joel Barlow, American Diplomat and Nation Builder

Peter P. Hill

280 pages


April 2012


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

May 2012


$34.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Joel Barlow was the early Republic’s most tenacious diplomat, a cheerful volunteer for difficult missions. His hard-won treaties with Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli ended, at least briefly, the attacks of Barbary pirates on American shipping in the Mediterranean. And on the eve of the War of 1812, President Madison sent him to France, where he subsequently won important wartime concessions from Napoleon.Young Barlow wrote his epic poem The Vision of Columbus while serving as an army chaplain fresh out of Yale University. He later sold Western lands to French émigrés, ran for a seat in the French National Assembly, escaped the Terror, and ultimately made his fortune as a cargo broker. His ties with the Jeffersonian elite and longtime familiarity with the Paris political scene made him Madison’s logical choice to keep the peace by trying to win enough concessions from France to demand the same of Britain.Peter P. Hill’s fast-paced biography, while closing in on the intricacies of Barlow’s diplomatic career, also portrays his subject as a conscious nation builder, a visionary who foresaw his country’s worldwide role in spreading democratic institutions, committing itself to free trade, and involving its federal government in the cause of public education. Hill brings to life a true Enlightenment man whose love of country, democracy, and learning reveals the soul of an age.

Author Bio

Peter P. Hill is professor emeritus of history at the George Washington University and the author of several books, including Napoleon’s Troublesome Americans: Franco-American Relations, 1804–1815 (2006) and French Perceptions of the Early American Republic, 1783–1793 (1988). He lives in Brunswick, Maine.


“This is the definitive biography of the poet-diplomat Joel Barlow. Peter P. Hill has written a graceful as well as authoritative account of a neglected but important figure in Jeffersonian America. Barlow’s poetic contributions to the growing national spirit in the early Republic were matched by his diplomatic activities in France.”—Lawrence S. Kaplan, professor emeritus of history, Kent State University, and author of Thomas Jefferson: Westward the Course of Empire and Alexander Hamilton: Ambivalent Anglophile

“Joel Barlow—poet, land speculator, diplomat, patron of learning—was a key figure in early American diplomacy. Peter P. Hill, an expert in early Franco-American relations, has given what is likely the definitive account of Barlow’s complex and varied diplomatic career.”—Robert W. Smith, assistant professor of history and political science, Worcester State University, and author of Keeping the Republic: Ideology and Early American Diplomacy

“Peter P. Hill is one of the great American diplomatic historians. This book demonstrates his continuing superb scholarship, making a critical and fascinating contribution to our understanding of the diplomatic minefield faced by Americans of the early Republic, and the important role played by the remarkable Joel Barlow.”—Melanie Randolph Miller, author of Envoy to the Terror: Gouverneur Morris and the French Revolution