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Pasquale Paoli

Pasquale Paoli

[pou-lee; It. pah-aw-lee]
Paoli, Pasquale, 1725-1807, Corsican patriot. He shared the exile (1739-55) of his father, Giacinto Paoli, who had fought against the Genoese rulers of the island. In 1755 he returned to Corsica, led a successful revolt against the Genoese, and was chosen president under a republican constitution. His capital was at Corte. He governed with wide powers, but respected the constitution. Material prosperity, public order, and education were greatly furthered. In 1768, Genoa, despairing of reducing the island to submission, sold Corsica to France. Paoli fought brilliantly against the superior forces of the French, but in 1769 he was decisively defeated and fled to England, where his popularity was great. James Boswell, who had corresponded with him and visited him in Corsica, introduced him into the circle of Samuel Johnson. After the outbreak of the French Revolution, Paoli was appointed (1791) governor of Corsica. He subscribed to the liberal revolutionary principles, but opposed the radical turn the French Revolution took and, especially, the centralizing policy of the Revolutionary government. Accused (1793) of counterrevolutionary activities and summoned to Paris, he proclaimed the independence of Corsica and solicited British aid. With the help of Admiral Hood the French were defeated (1794). The pro-French party was banished and the Corsican national assembly (consulta) declared the island a British protectorate and chose an English governor. Paoli, who favored independence and who had hoped to be appointed viceroy, was disappointed when Pozzo di Borgo became chief of the Corsican council of state. Paoli went to England in 1795 and remained there until his death. After his departure the islanders rose against the British and in 1796 drove them out with French help.

See J. Boswell, Boswell on the Grand Tour, ed. by F. Brady and F. A. Pottle (1955); P. A. Thrasher, Pasquale Paoli (1970).

Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli (Pascal Paoli, April 6, 1725 February 5, 1807), was a Corsican patriot and leader, the president of the Executive Council of the General Diet of the People of Corsica. Paoli designed and wrote the Constitution of this first democratic republic of the modern age himself. It was a representative democracy asserting that the elected Diet of Corsican representatives had no master. Paoli held his office by election and not by appointment. It made him commander-in-chief of the armed forces as well as chief magistrate. Paoli's government claimed the same jurisdiction as the Republic of Genoa. In terms of de facto exercise of power, the Genovese held the coastal cities, which they could defend from their citadels, but the Corsican republic controlled the rest of the island from Corte, its capital.


Early years

Paoli was born in the hamlet of Stretta, Morosaglia commune, part of the ancient parish of Rostino, Haute-Corse, Corsica. He was the second son of the physician and patriot, Giacinto Paoli, who was to become one of three "Generals of the People" in the Corsican nationalist movement that rebelled against rule by the Republic of Genoa, which at that time they regarded as corrupt and tyrannical. Prior to that century Corsicans more or less accepted Genoan rule. By 1729, the year of first rebellion, the Genovese were regarded as failing in their task of government. The major problems were the high murder rate because of the custom of vendetta, the raiding of coastal villages by the barbary pirates, oppressive taxes and economic depression.

In the rebellion of 1729 over a new tax the Genovese withdrew into their citadels and sent for foreign interventions, first from Austria and then from France. Defeated by professional troops the Corsicans ceded violence but kept their organization. After surrendering to the French in 1739 Giacinto Paoli went into exile in Naples with his then 14-year-old son, Pasquale. An older brother, Clemente, remained at home as a liaison to the revolutionary diet, or assembly of the people.

Corsica was subsequently distracted by the War of the Austrian Succession during which troops of a number of countries temporarily occupied the cities of Corsica. In Naples Giacinto perceiving that he had a talented son spared no effort or expense in his education, which was primarily classical. The enlightenment of which Pascale was to become a part was neo-classical in its art, architecture and sentiments. Paoli is said once to have heard an old man on the road reciting Vergil, walked up behind him, clapped him on the back, and resumed reciting at the point where the other had left off. In 1741 Pasquale joined the Corsican regiment of the royal Neapolitan army and served in Calabria under his father.

Corsican exiles in Italy were seeking assistance for the revolution, including a skilled general. In 1736 the exiles of Genoa had discovered Theodor von Neuhoff, a soldier of fortune whom they were willing to make king, but he was unsuccessful and in 1754 languished in debtor's prison in London. The young Pasquale became of interest when in opposition to a plan to ask the Knights of Malta to assume command he devised a plan for a native Corsican government. In that year Giacinto decided that Pasquale was ready to supplant Theodore and wrote to Vincente recommending that a general election be held. The subsequent popular election called by Vincente at Caccia made Pasquale General-in-Chief of Corsica, commander of all resistance.

Corsica at that time was still under the influence of feuding clans, as a result of which only the highland clans had voted in the election. The lowlanders now held an election of their own and elected Mario Matra as commander, who promptly attacked the supporters of Paoli. Moreover, Matra called on the Genovese for assistance, dragging Paoli into a conflict with them. Matra was killed shortly in battle and his support among the Corsicans collapsed.

Paoli's next task was to confine the Genovese to their citadels. His second was to design a constitution which when ratified by the population in 1755 set up a new republic, a representative democracy. Its first election made Paoli president, supplanting his former position.

President of the Corsican Republic

In November 1755, the people of Corsica ratified a constitution that proclaimed Corsica a sovereign nation, independent from the Republic of Genoa. This was the first constitution written under Enlightenment principles. The new president and author of the constitution occupied himself with building a modern state; for example, he founded a university at Corte. Seeing that they had in effect lost control of Corsica, Genoa responded by selling Corsica to the French by secret treaty in 1764 and allowing Genovese troops to be replaced quietly by French ones. When all was ready in 1768 the French made a public announcement of the union of Corsica with France and proceeded to the reconquest. Paoli fought a guerilla war from the mountains but in 1769 he was defeated in the Battle of Ponte Novu by vastly superior forces and took refuge in England. Corsica officially became a département of France in 1770.

First exile

Image:JoshuaReynoldsParty.jpg|A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds' house (1781). The painting shows the friends of Reynolds (one is Paoli) - many of whom were members of "The Club" - use cursor to identify. |400px|thumb

poly 133 343 124 287 159 224 189 228 195 291 222 311 209 343 209 354 243 362 292 466 250 463 Dr Johnson - Dictionary writer poly 76 224 84 255 43 302 62 400 123 423 121 361 137 344 122 290 111 234 96 225 Boswell - Biographer poly 190 276 208 240 229 228 247 238 250 258 286 319 282 323 223 323 220 301 200 295 Sir Joshua Reynolds - Host poly 308 317 311 270 328 261 316 246 320 228 343 227 357 240 377 274 366 284 352 311 319 324 David Garrick - actor poly 252 406 313 343 341 343 366 280 383 273 372 251 378 222 409 228 414 280 420 292 390 300 374 360 359 437 306 418 313 391 272 415 Edmund Burke - statesman rect 418 220 452 287 Pasqual Paoli - Corsican independent poly 455 238 484 253 505 303 495 363 501 377 491 443 429 439 423 375 466 352 Charles Burney - music historian poly 501 279 546 237 567 239 572 308 560 326 537 316 530 300 502 289 Thomas Warton - poet laureate poly 572 453 591 446 572 373 603 351 562 325 592 288 573 260 573 248 591 243 615 254 637 280 655 334 705 396 656 419 625 382 609 391 613 453 Oliver Goldsmith - writer rect 450 86 584 188 prob.The Infant Academy 1782 rect 286 87 376 191 unknown painting circle 100 141 20 An unknown portrait poly 503 192 511 176 532 176 534 200 553 219 554 234 541 236 525 261 506 261 511 220 515 215 servant - poss. Dr Johnson's hier rect 12 10 702 500 Use button to enlarge or use hyperlinks

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In London Paoli attracted the attention of the brilliant (and eccentric) Johnsonian circle almost immediately for which his expansive personality made him a natural fit. This informal group of friends included George III, who had been in it before he became king. By the time Paoli entered the scene it had in part taken the form of The Club of mainly successful men of a liberal frame of mind. Such behavior as Paoli showing his bullet-ridden coat to all visitors and then demanding a gratuity for the observation were amusing to the group, which had begun when its members were starting their careers and according to its chronicler James Boswell were themselves needy. After a series of interviews with George, Paoli was given a pension by the crown with the understanding that if he ever returned to Corsica in a position of authority he would support British interests against the French. This was not, however, a cynical arrangement. Paoli became sincerely pro-British and had a genuine affection for his new friends, including the king, a predisposition that in the French Revolution led him into the royalist camp. The arrangement also was not a treaty of any sort, as at the time neither Paoli nor George III would have any idea of future circumstances. George would not have imagined that he would become a symbol of British tyranny or Pasquale that he would be condemned as a traitor to the very revolution for which he had just been fighting.

President of the department of Corsica

By the time of the French revolution the name of Paoli had become something of an idol of liberty and democracy. In 1790 the revolutionary National Assembly in Paris passed a decree incorporating Corsica into France, essentially duplicating the work of 1780 but under a new authority. It granted amnesty to exiles, on which Paoli embarked immediately for Corsica. He arrived in time for the election of departmental officers at Orezza, ran for President, and was elected unanimously. Naploleon Bonaparte, organizer of the elections and active Jacobin, did not run at this time, but he was as much an admirer of Paoli as anyone.

Naploeon, on leave from his artillery regiment, returned to the regiment at Auxonne, where he was working on a history of Corsica. Writing to Paoli he asked his opinion on some of it and for historical documents. The differences between the two men became apparent. Paoli thought the history amateurish and too impassioned and refused the documents; Napolean at this point had no idea of Paoli's regal connections in Britain or moderate, even sympathetic, sentiments about royalty.

In 1791 the National Assembly ordered elections for the officers of the Corsican National Guard, which Napoleon had created. Three lieutenant-colonelcies were available, one senior. Going on leave again Napoleon ran in Corsica and won the senior position after kidnapping one candidate to keep him out of the public eye (keep him safe, he said) and having the other one beat up. The Reign of Terror was beginning in Paris and Napoleon and the revolution were beyond democracy, certainly beyond Paoli's moderate ideas. From then on Napoleon acted arbitrarily and high-handedly without recourse to the law on behalf of the revolution and against royalism. He found himself having to arrest officers in the French army far senior to himself. Nominally Napoleon's employer, Paoli kept his own counsel and surrounded himself with his own associates, the "Paolists."

President of the British protectorate

Paoli split from the French Revolution over the issue of the execution of the king and threw in his lot with the royalist party. He did not make these views generally known, but when the revolutionary government ordered him to take Sardinia from Italy he put his nephew in charge of the expedition with secret orders to lose the conflict. In that case he was acting as a British agent, as the British had an interest in Sardinia they could not pursue if the French occupied it.

He had however also sent Napoleon Bonaparte as a colonel in command of two companies of Corsican guard (unofficially reinforced by 6000 revolutionaries from Marseille), which participated in the assault on Maddalena Island in February, 1793. It failed because the commander, Pietro Paolo Colonna-Cesari, failed to take appropriate military action, because the island had been reinforced just prior to the attack, and because the defenders seemed to know exactly where and when the revolutionaries were going to strike.

Napoleon perceived the situation during the first confrontation with his commander and assumed de facto command but the attack failed and he barely escaped. Enraged, after having been a strong supporter and admirer of Paoli, he and the entire Bonaparte family denounced Paoli as a traitor before the French National Convention and aggravated the grievance by at first pretending to take Paoli's side. Thanks to Napoleon arrest warrants were issued and sent to Corsica along with a force intended to take the citadels from the royalists, who had supplanted the Genovese after the sale of Corsica. Combining together the Paolists and royalists defeated Napoleon and drove him from the island in fear of his life.

Paoli then summoned a consulta (assembly) at Corte in 1793, with himself as president and formally seceded from France. He requested the protection of the British government, then at war with revolutionary France. In 1794 British sent a fleet under Admiral Samuel Hood. This fleet had just been ejected from the French port of Toulon by a revolutionary army following the plan of Napoleon Bonaparte, for which he was promoted to Brigadier General. The royalists at Toulon also had requested British protection. Napoleon was now dispatched to deal with Italy as commander of the French forces there.

For a short time, Corsica was a protectorate of King George III, chiefly by the exertions of Hood's fleet, and Paoli's cooperation. This period has become known as the "Anglo-Corsican Kingdom" because George III was accepted as sovereign head of state, but this was not an incorporation of Corsica into the British Empire. The relationship between Paoli's government and the British was never clearly defined, resulting in numerous questions of authority. At last the crown invited Paoli to resign and return to exile in Britain with a pension, which having no other options now he did. Not long after the French reconquered the island and all questions of Corsican sovereignty came to an end until the 20th century.

Second exile

Paoli set sail for England in October 1795, where he lived out his final years. Pascale Paoli died on February 5, 1807 and was buried in St. Pancras churchyard. A bust was placed in Westminster Abbey. In 1889 his bones were brought to Corsica in a British frigate and interred at the family home under a memorial in the Italian language.

Pasquale never married and as far as is known had no heirs. Information about his intimate life is mainly lacking; however, it is believed he had an affair with Maria Cosway. However, Robert Harvey claims he was homosexual, when discussing how Carlo Buonaparte became Paoli's personal secretary.

Pasquale Paoli and Italian Irredentism

Insofar as Italian irredentism was a political or historical movement, Pasquale Paoli lived long before its time and did not have anything to do with the movement that ended with the occupation of Corsica by Italian fascist troops in the initial stages of World War II. The Italy of his time was not even a united country and he earned his reputation as an early revolutionary by leading Corsica out from under the dominion of one Italian state, the Republic of Genoa.

There is no question, however, that Paoli was sympathetic to Italian culture and regarded his own native language as an Italian dialect. It is not, but is a closely related Romance language; nevertheless, Paoli espoused the idea that it is. There is no evidence that he advocated the political unity of all Italians on formerly Roman soil, as did the irredentists and he certainly did not advocate union with Italy, as there was no Italy as it is known today. The modern state had to wait for historic Italian nationalism to run its course. His Italian cultural sympathies however have offered some ground for philosophic irredentism claiming him. He was considered by Niccolò Tommaseo, who collected his Lettere (Letters), as one of the precursors of the Italian irredentism, a view which is debatable.

The "Babbu di a Patria" (father of Corsica), as was nicknamed Pasquale Paoli by the Corsican Italians, wrote in his Letters the following appeal in 1768 against the French invaders:

We (Corsicans) are Italians because of birth and feelings, but first of all we feel Italians because of language, roots, traditions and all the Italians are all brothers for History and for God....As Corsicans we do not want to be slaves nor "rebels" and as Italians we have the right to be treated like all the other Italian brothers.... Or we 'll be free or we'll be nothing...Or we'll win or we'll die (against the French) with the arms in our hands...The war against France is holy and right as holy and right is the name of God, and here on our mountains will appear for all Italy the sun of liberty....
("Siamo còrsi per nascita e sentimento ma prima di tutto ci sentiamo italiani per lingua, origini, costumi, tradizioni e gli italiani sono tutti fratelli e solidali di fronte alla storia e di fronte a Dio… Come còrsi non vogliamo essere né schiavi né "ribelli" e come italiani abbiamo il diritto di trattare da pari con gli altri fratelli d’Italia… O saremo liberi o non saremo niente… O vinceremo con l’onore o soccomberemo (contro i francesi) con le armi in mano... La guerra con la Francia è giusta e santa come santo e giusto è il nome di Dio, e qui sui nostri monti spunterà per l’Italia il sole della libertà…")

Pasquale Paoli wanted the Italian language to be the official language of his Corsican Republic. His Corsican Constitution of 1755 was in Italian and the short-lived university he founded in the city of Corte in 1765 used Italian.

Paoli commemmorated in the USA

The American Sons of Liberty were inspired by Paoli and his struggle against despotism. In 1768, the editor of the New York Journal described Paoli as "the greatest man on earth". Many place names in the USA are named after him. These include:


Further reading

  • James Boswell's Account of Corsica and Memoirs of P Paoli (1768)
  • N Tommaseo, "Lettere di Pasquale de Paoli" (in Archivio storico italiano, 1st series, vol. xi.), and Della Corsica, etc. (ibid., nuova serie, vol. xi., parte ii.);
  • Pompei, De L'état de la Corse (Paris, 1821); Giovanni Livi, Lettere inedite di Pasquale Paoli (in Arch. stor. ital., 5th series, vols. v. and vi.);
  • Bartoli, Historia di Pascal Paoli (Bastia, 1891); Lencisa, P. Paoli e la guerra d'indipendenza della Corsica (Milano, 1890).
  • John Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.

See also

External links

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