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College of Humanities & Sciences

Department of History

Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia Lecture

Russia might be one of the very last countries one thinks of when discussing the course of the American Revolution. But as Professor George Munro demonstrated in an October 2020 VCU lecture, the fledgling United States very much had Russia in mind as it sought allies and recognition at the height of the war. Indeed, British leaders had hoped early on that Catherine the Great of Russia might provide ground troops for hire, although they were disappointed. Catherine was determined to stay out of the fray and felt particular distaste for the British, yet she also brought together a group of neutral countries in an alliance intended to protect the shipping interests of all those countries into a League of Armed Neutrality.

The story of the United States' involvement with Russia became even more curious late in the war, when the American government sent a would-be diplomat to St. Petersburg with the goal of establishing diplomatic relations and convincing the tsarina to recognize formally the new country. But in this respect, Catherine disappointed the Americans. She had not requested the arrival of such a figure, nor did she have much to gain in recognizing the United States. Instead, the American Francis Dana spent nearly three years in Russia posing as a merchant and failing to win an audience with Russia's ruler. It was, as Prof. Munro revealed, an embarrassing illustration of the Americans' failure to understand international diplomacy and its marked lack of men with diplomatic experience.

Prof. Munro based the talk on an important new book entitled No Collusion! Catherine the Great and American Independence (Slavica Publishers, 2020) by the late historian David M. Griffiths, who died in 2014 before the book manuscript was complete. Munro was asked by Griffiths's family to complete it and edit it down to a publishable length.

This was VCU's annual Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia lecture on the history of the political, economic, and military history of the American Revolution. Thanks to the generosity of the Society, this annual lecture permits VCU to feature some of the most cutting-edge research on the revolutionary era for audiences of students, faculty, and members of the community. Because this year's talk was presented online via Zoom, the talk reached even more people than it usually does when held in person.

For more information about the Society of the Cincinnati Lecture, contact Professor Carolyn Eastman at ceastman@vcu.edu to get on the mailing list for next year's talk.

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