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Mazzei - Italian American In Service to Poland

Philip Mazzei left his native Italy in 1756 at age 26, seeking greater freedom in more liberal England. A trained surgeon, Mazzei set up an importing business in London. When liberties there became curtailed, he moved to America, where the cause of true freedom was gaining a foothold.

MazzeiMazzei met Thomas Adams, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, and in 1773 bought a plantation next to Jefferson's Monticello. The two became great friends and neighbors. When the revolution came , he took up arms against England and became an American citizen. He soon entered politics and became a political writer whose ideas influenced the course of government.

He landed a position as Virginia's agent in Europe in 1780 and traveled to Paris and Italy. His mission: to raise money for the American cause. But at this he failed and was recalled.

When Jefferson became U.S. Minister to France, Mazzei returned to Paris in 1785, hoping to secure a diplomatic post. In France, he promoted favorable views of America and vocally defended the U.S. at every opportunity. He eventually published a four volume work of his own about America, in essence becoming a publicist for this country. One of the readers of Mazzei's writings was King Stanisław August Poniatowski of Poland.

Mazzei was recommended to the king to become his agent in France, to keep him informed of the situation there. Though the king thought Mazzei too revolutionary in his ideas, he was persuaded to employ the Italian American. Though Mazzei was hesitant to accept, lest he be considered an opportunist ready to abandon democracy to serve a king for pay, Jefferson assured him that Stanisław was an enlightened republican who was admired for his progressive thoughts.

Mazzei entered his duties to the King of Poland in 1788, and in this position he was able to bring about the resumption of diplomatic ties between France and Poland. A year later he became Poland's Charge d'Affairs in Paris. But he sincerely wished that the American government had seen fit to appoint him to a post. Mazzei's letters to the king about life in America and France, and their revolutions, had an influence upon Stanisław's thinking about constitutional reform in Poland.

Another American in Europe who was in service to King Stanisław was Lewis Littlepage. Mazzei and Littlepage had known each other in Virginia, and met again in Paris when both were there seeking positions in the early 1780s. It was Littlepage whom Mazzei replaced as Poland's agent in France. Mazzei had a disapproving opinion of his countryman, and he shared this with the king. No record exists of the two Americans meeting in Warsaw during Mazzei's visit in 1792, but both were there and it may be assumed that they at least greeted each other, however coldly.

When Mazzei at last came to Warsaw in 1792, he brought confirmation of the plans of Prussia to join Russia in dismembering Poland, but little could be done at that point. Mazzei's presence was even used by the Prussians as an excuse to intervene, calling him a dangerous revolutionary.

Mazzei gave his advice in economics and politics to King Stanisław, and tried to help diplomatically ward off the incursions of Russia and Prussia. He got to know Tadeusz Kościuszko, was made Chamberlain and Privy Councillor to the king, and became a naturalized citizen of Poland.

But Mazzei foresaw the sad destiny of Poland. He tried to convince the king to abdicate and retire to Rome, but this he did not do, telling Mazzei, "Up to now my device has been patience and courage and I will cling to it." Events in Poland became too painful for Mazzei to witness, and after a long goodbye with the king, he left Warsaw in July 1792.

Philip Mazzei never again set foot in the United States. He instead returned to the land of his birth, hoping that King Stanisław would join him in Italy. Though he had lived in America for less than ten years, he was proud to call himself an American. He was also proud of his service to Poland, and deeply lamented its fate, that of dissolution and partition. The death of King Stanisław in 1798 pained him deeply. Like so many others who had come to know the king personally, Mazzei had the utmost admiration for this enlightened and benevolent monarch.

Mazzei welcomed many Polish visitors to in villa in Pisa, including poet and politician Julian Niemcewicz and Prince Adam Czartoryski, who suggested Mazzei go to St. Petersburg to claim a pension owed him by Poland, whose debts Russia had assumed. His 1802 trip was a success, and becoming the czar's pensioner secured his financial future. During his sojourn, Mazzei stopped in Poland where he was welcomed by old friends.

From Pisa, Mazzei continued to exchange letters with Jefferson, as he had for decades, and also with James Madison. Mazzei's views on Europe were valued, for he had traveled there extensively and made many contacts. He died in Pisa in 1816 at age 86. The epitaph upon his grave duly notes his service to both America and Poland. He was an interesting figure in the Age of Enlightenment: a surgeon in Italy and Turkey, a merchant in London, a planter and supporter of American independence in Virginia, a diplomat in Paris and confidant to the King of Poland. He transmitted European ideas to America, and American ideas to Europe, and was truly a citizen of the world.

I recommend:

Europe : A History, bestseller written by famous British historian Norman Davies


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