David McCullough’s book The Greater Journey lists some of the most well-known artistic, scientific, and literary figures of the Civil War era among those who “made pilgrimages to Paris,” including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Samuel Morse was honored there as a “benefactor of mankind” for his world-changing invention, the telegraph, the inspiration for which came when he was living in Paris in the thirties.
An expatriot just as well-known at the time, but less expected, is Charles Sumner. The abolitionist senator from Massachusetts found Paris a refuge, especially after the infamous, savage beating he suffered from Preston Brooks in the Senate chamber.
Citing records that indicated no concussion or fracture from the attack, McCullough notes that Sumner’s suffering “was entirely real, but the indications are it derived far more from the psychological trauma of the attack than from a neurological cause.” Sumner’s well-being improved markedly when he left Washington and deteriorated each time he returned. Though he was subjected to some brutal, though well-intended quackery in Paris, the city and the company he kept there, along with further tours in Europe, proved healing. A friend said, “I never found him more cheerful or more hopeful. It is a continual feast to see him.”
The outbreak of the American Civil War interrupted the Parisian idyll, sending worried Americans back over the ocean and making enemies of Northern and Southern expats. After the War, though not even the City of Light could erase from memory the frightful suffering Americans had endured in battle and on the home front, the artists soon trickled back and the Parisian joie de vivre beckoned pleasure-loving Gilded Age visitors.