The French Revolution is one of the most dramatic periods of Western history. It occurred shortly after the American revolution and was inspired by the successful example of the United States and also by notions of social reform put forth by "Enlightenment" philosophers. Although many of the French reformers had the best of intentions, the revolution eventually fell under the control of the most vicious and fanatical elements. Thousands of French citizens were murdered and their property confiscated. Tens of thousands more perished due to civil wars and anarchy. The revolution influenced subversive agitators far beyond the border of France and inspired political upheavals throughout the following century.
The French king who had the misfortune to rule during the French revolution was Louis XVI, an earnest, but not entirely competent monarch. Most of the problems of the French monarchy can better be attributed to his grandfather, Louis XV, a self-indulgent monarch, whose 60 year reign saw the loss of both prestige and territory. He emptied the treasury, levied oppressive taxes, and encouraged the already luxurious and dissolute French aristocracy to new levels of decadence and profligacy. Although Louis XVI was a personally pious king, the French clergy of his time was composed almost entirely of irreligious nobles, accountable to regional aristocrats rather than the Pope. Unsurprisingly, anti-clerical and anti-Royalist sentiments thrived in this environment, especially among the intelligentsia.
Early Years of the Revolution—The French Revolution began when Louis XVI called for a National Assembly to address a financial crisis. This caused great excitement and there were early demonstrations by the Paris mob, including the storming of the Bastille and the march of 7000 women on Versailles. Nevertheless, the National Assembly began in an orderly fashion and made a number of worthy reforms. It also decided that in order to pay off its national debt all Church property should be confiscated and sold to creditors. Not content to merely strip the Church of its wealth, the Assembly took the additional step of nationalizing the Church and forcing all priests to sign an oath of loyalty.
After sitting for over two years, the National Assemby called for the election of a Legislative Assembly that would rule along with the king. Unfortunately, the composition of the new Assembly was more radical than its predecessor and the poor treatment of the king alarmed both moderates within France and foreign governments. The result was a legislature divided between the radical "Jacobin" wing and the aristocratic-republican "Girondist" party. The Assembly's increasing hostility towards the monarchy and tendency toward lawless confiscation of weath discouraged many well-respected leaders, and several, including Revolutionary War hero Lafayette, deserted the Republican cause. Eventually these "emigres" convinced Austria and her allies to invade France and restore the power to the king.
The Reign of Terror—In the summer of 1792, as Austrian and Prussian troops approached France, there was panic among republican radicals who knew they would lose power and perhaps be arrested if France were invaded. They began to jail suspected Royalist sympathizers, deposed the King, and in early September, after the fall of Verdun, thousands of suspected loyalist sympathizers were massacred. Just a few weeks later, the French army won a great victory at Valmy, and the Legislative Assembly declared itself to be a Republic. The Assembly was renamed the National Convention and it now ruled without any deference to the monarchy whatsoever.
The resistance of some members of the Convention to the radical measures advocated by the Jacobins resulted in a purge of the moderate "Girondist" party, and the establishment of a Committee of Public Safety to root out traitors and Royalist sympathizers. The monarchies of Europe raised new armies to march against France, and by Fall of 1793 the Reign of Terror was in full swing. During the next nine months over 40,000 citizens were executed for being "enemies of the state", about half by guillotine.
The Thermidorian Reaction—The anarchy and lawlessness of the Reign of Terror was brought to an end when the radicals and murderers turned on each other. Georges Danton was a leading figure in the revolution, but he was accused by Robespierre, (nicknamed "The Incorruptible"), of profiting through bribes and influence peddling. His execution alarmed many of his followers, especially those who had also profited by bribes or confiscation of property. They began to see Robespierre's idealist revolutionary zeal as a threat to themselves, and in July 1794 in an incident known as the Thermidorian Reaction, Robespierre and his closest allies were executed.
Robespierre had been popular among the Paris mob, and the Thermidorian conspirators thought that their best chance to avoid the same fate was to dismattle the Commitee of Public Safety, free all political prisoners, and end all executions. They then took over the National Convention and set about the task of establishing a constitutional government that was carefully constructed to ensure their own hold on power. In 1795, the National Convention gave way to the Directory, a 5-man dictatorship whose hold on power was supported by a young artillery officer by the name of Napoleon.
Dozens of people played important roles in the first seven years of the French Revolution. For the following twenty years, however, from 1796 to 1815, the central character in the history of western Europe was Napoleon Bonaparte. There are few characters in history more complicated or controversial. He was a brilliant general and statesman and made many necessary and important reforms. But his overwhelming confidence in himself and uncompromising manner made many enemies and doomed his legacy. He sought after Republican ideals, but when elected bodies failed to produced the desire results, he resorted to a dictatorship far more tyrannical that the degenerate Christian monarchies he sought to replace. He sought to improve society, but his wars of aggression killed over 3 million people. He was so sure that he alone could best direct the government of 150 million Europeans that he took on far more then even a ruthless dictator with all the armies of Europe at his back, could hope to achieve. After thirteen years of Imperial rule, he was finally defeated by the combined nations of Europe but not before radically changing the political landscape of the continent.
By early 1797 the Directory was in firm control of the government of France and Napoleon was dispatched to Italy. By late 1797 he was master of northern Italy and had forced Austria into peace negotiations. He returned to Paris in December of 1797 a hero and gained support for an ambitious plan of conquest directed against Britain's empire in India. His ambition was to conquer the middle east and use an overland route to supply Britain's enemies in India with French support. In June 1798 Napoleon and his army sailed for Alexandria and won a decisive victory over the Egyptian Mamluks at the Battle of the Paramids, but suffered a number of setbacks over the next few months. First, the British naval hero Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet at port in Aboukir bay. Then his troops suffered from the plague and his campaign into Syria was not entirely successful. Finally, he he received word that French armies in Italy had suffered many reverses and that the government in Paris was in disorder. Upon hearing this news, Napoleon retreated with his army to Egypt and returned alone to France.
Coup and First Consulship—During Napoleon's absence, the Napoleon was still popular in France and received a hero's welcome on his returned from Egypt. With the help of his brothers and other allies in goverment he arranged a coup d'etat and was pronounced "First Consul" of France. His first order of business was to reconquer Italian territory lost during his expedition to Egypt. Napoleon's second Italian Campaign was just as decisive as his first and by June 1800 he had reclaimed northern Italy and forced the Austrians to sue for peace. For four years afterward Europe enjoyed a period of relative peace. Napoleon spent the time consolidating his power in France and putting the economy on solid footing. He signed a concordant normalizing relations with the Catholic church, sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States, established a new civil code, and made a number of other worthwhile reforms.
Conquest of Central Europe—While 1800-1804 was a period of relative peace in Europe, the years 1805-1807 saw a series of dramatic battles in which Napoleon's Grand Armee conquered much of Central Europe and defeated the combined armies of Austria, Prussia, Russia, Naples, Sweden, and Britain. In late 1805 Napoleon marched on Austria and won a brilliant victory at Austerlitz, bringing an end to the Holy Roman Empire. He placed his brother Joseph on the throne of Naples and then marched north, where he defeated the Prussian army at the Battle of Jenna. Napoleon's hardest won campaign however, was with Russia, the last surviving member of the fourth coalition. Alexander I finally conceded after the battle of Friedland and signed the treaty of Tilsit. By this treaty Prussia was partitioned to create the Kingdom of Westphalia, Russia conceded its Polish territory to the Duchy of Warsaw, and both states became clients of Napoleon's Empire. After three years of warfare all of Europe, excepting only Britain, was controled by Napoleon or his allies.
In spite of his conquests, resistance to Napoleon's regime remained and his German foes continued to drill their troops in preparation for another stand against the tyrant. By 1809 much of the French Army had been redeployed to the Peninsular War in Spain so Austria and Britain chose this time make another assault on Napoleon's empire. The allies opened one front in the Netherlands, and another in the Danube Valley. But Napoleon recalled his armies to the field and again prevailed at the Battle of Wagram. Eventually, however, Napoleon resolved that the best way to make a permanent peace with the great powers of Europe was to combine the Bonaparte dynasty with the ruling houses of Europe. Part of the terms of peace with Austria, therefore, involved the marriage of Napoleon with Marie Louise, an Austrian princess.
Another way in which Napoleon alienated his allies was his enforcement of a trade embargo with Britain, which ruined the economies of countries that relied on foreign trade. Alexander I refused to enforce a trade embargo against England and even Napoleon's brother Louis, king of the Netherlands flouted the emperors orders to restrict trade. Napoleon's tendency to dictate terms from above, which contradicted long established local methods, gained him enemies throughout Europe, even in formerly friendly domains.
Napoleon's most intractible problem, however, was the Peninsular War in Spain. For most of his reign, Spain had been at peace with France, and its corrupt and craven rulers had accomodated his every wish. Yet in 1808 he deposed the Bourbons rulers and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king of Spain. This caused an a widespread uprising in Spain, not by the nobility or upper classes, who acquiesed to Napoleon's rule, but by the peasantry and rural resident who saw the French as a threat to the church, local government and provincial rights. Napoleon's armies were accustomed to fighting pitched battles against standing armies, but were ineffective against the type of guerilla warfare fought by the Spanish, and Britain armies were entrenched in strongholds all along the coast with ready supplies and reinforcements. The Peninsula war dragged on in Spain for four years without a clear resolution; longer than it had taken Napoleon to defeat the combined forces of the Hapsburg Empire, Prussia, and Russia.
Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow, during which over 500,000 men perished, emboldened his enemies, and Prussia, Russia, and Austria organized another coalition against the French. The long running war in Spain had exhausted many regiments and the loss of thousands of battle-tested soldiers in Russia was irreplaceable. Napoleon was forced to draw some of his experience troops from Spain, raise a new army and return to Germany to meet his united enemies, commanded by the Prussian general Marshal Blucher, while Britain opened a new offensive in Spain under Duke of Wellington. The battles of the Sixth coalition began in earnest in the summer of 1813 and the allies did not let up until Napoleon resigned his office in April of 1814.
Once Napoleon was exiled to Elba the exhausted allies returned home and attempted to restore order, but the emperor still had many supporters in France and soon escaped from captivity. On his return, Napoleon swore he intended only to govern France in peace, but his enemies would not hear of it and once again raised armies against him. He was finally defeated at Waterloo, and exiled to the remote Island of St. Helena where he died six years later.
The Restoration and Republic period of France lasted 100 years, from the fall of Napoleon to the First World War. During this period, the French people deposed two kings and one emperor, established two republics and suffered through several periods of general anarchy. France was rich and prosperous in many ways, and the 19th century saw enormous advances in science, industry and commerce, but this prosperity only increased class resentment and political strife. The political factions in France during this time were strongly opposed to each other in issues of both religion and government philosophy. Although the conservative monarchist party was often willing to make concessions to moderate Republicans, the left wing Republican faction constantly agitated for radical wealth redistribution and the abolition of religion. The leftward drift of French politics, therefore, was only disrupted by periodic episodes of revolutionary violence which reminded the populace of the horrors of anarchy and the viciousness of a politicized mob.
Since the time of the French revolution, the Republican party had been composed of both conservative constitutionalists, such as Lafayette and the Girondists, and left-wing fanatics who pandered to the discontented mob and advocated a form of communism. Both royalists and conservative republicans opposed the radicals but they differed regarding matters of religion. By 1830 republicans saw an opportunity to transition to a constitutional monarchy. Louis Philippe, a second cousin of King Charles, was not the legitimate heir. However, he was from the Royal family, a committed republican, and a friend of Lafayette. Both men had spent considerable time in American and were great fans of the Constitution, so when Lafayette proposed Louis Philippe to replace the deposed Charles X, he was accepted by both monarchists and republicans.
Revolution of 1848—Thiers and Guizot were highly competent ministers and for nearly twenty years the constitutional monarchy under Louis Philippe was relatively stable. The first secular public schools in France were established, and several other reforms of government were made. The government ministers, who remembered the horrors of the Reign of Terror, were careful to restrict the vote to men of property. This naturally caused grumbling and reduced the legitimacy of the government, but it was thought to be a necessary safeguard. When the Revolution of 1848 broke out however, the rioters insisted on democratic reforms and deposed the Royal family once and for all.
Napoleon III and the Second Empire—Although Napoleon's rule ended in disaster for France, he was still remembered as a capable and charismatic leader who had brought unity and glory to the country. To many Frenchmen, he combined the most important reforms of Republicanism with strong executive leadership, and though irreligious himself, he was at least nominally supportive of the Catholic Church. The Bonapartist party, therefore, was popular throughout the 19th century in France, and when popular elections were finally held Napoleon III, the nephew of the great general, was able to get himself elected as president with a large majority of votes. The chaos and anarchy that preceded Napoleon III's election was a reminder of how difficult democratic government was for France, so within a few years Napoleon had himself elected emperor, with a great outpouring of popular support.
While Napoleon III tried to keep peace in Europe, his reign involved a considerable amount of military intervention overseas. After battling Algerian pirates France gained control of Algeria, Tunis, and Morroco in Africa. In Asia, she joined forces with England during the second Opium War, and also gained colonies in "Cochinchina", now Vietnam. In the Middle East, she opposed Russia's expansion by allying with Britain and Turky, and helped develop the Suez Canal in cooperation with Egypt. And in Mexico, France tried to establish an empire under Archduke Maximilian but was eventually force to withdraw by the United States. Napoleon's only major foray into European politics involved supporting Sardinia in her war to drive Austria out of Northern Italy. His involvement in Italy was controversial, however, so he withdrew French troops at the first opportunity.
Franco Prussian War and the Commune of Paris—Unfortunately for Napoleon III, the downfall of his empire was being carefully planned by Bismarck, the Prussian master-strategist. By clever alliances and diplomatic manipulation, Bismarck was able to provoke three European wars between 1864 and 1870, each of which dramatically increased Prussian territory and influence. In 1870 he turned his attention to France, manipulated Napoleon III into declaring war, vanquished the French within a few months, and demanded territory and over a billion dollars in "reparations". France was utterly humiliated, Napoleon was captured and forced to resign, and his government was in shambles. The Prussians surrounded Paris, but since there was no legitimate government in place, France could not even manage to surrender. Eventually Thiers, a well-respected stateman of the Louis Philippe era, was able to put together a temporary government capable of signing a peace agreement. He was forced to borrow an enormous amount of money and pay off the war indemnity before German soldiers left France.
The Third Republic—By the time the provisional government had retaken Paris, the radical republican element of the government was entirely subdued. An election for President was held and General McMahon, a highly respected conservative "Royalist" was selected. The president himself would have preferred to return to a constitutional monarchy but given the lack of credible heirs to the throne there was no alternative but to accept a Republic. MacMahon's conservative leadership, combined with the suppression of radical political parties got the Third Republic off on solid footing.
Once the communist element of the political spectrum was purged, the major difference between "conservative" and "liberal" wings of the government regard the Republic's policies towards the Catholic Church. It was in this area that the policies of the Republic were most contentions over the following decades, and the anti-clerical wing of the Republic made steady progress in restricting the rights and privileges of the Church. Only four years after McMahon retired a "public school" bill was passed that prohibitted many religious orders from teaching. Under the influence of Freemasonry and other anti-clerical organizations, Catholics in public office were spied upon and denied promotion. Finally, in 1905, the French passed a law completely separating the Church and State in France and at the same time placed all church properties in the hands of lay-organizations. This put an end to a great many Catholic institutions since the Pope insisted on independence in ecclesiastical matters. After the Great War a partial compromise was achieve, but France remains today one of the most aggressively secular and anti-Catholic countries of Europe.
Divided Italy—From the Age of Charlemagne to the the 19th century, Italy was divided into northern, central and, southern kingdoms. Northern Italy was composed of independent duchies and city-states that were part of the Holy Roman Empire; the Papal States of central Italy were ruled by the Pope; and southern Italy had been ruled as an independent Kingdom since the Norman conquest of 1059. The language, culture, and government of each region developed independently so the idea of a united Italy did not gain popularity until the 19th century, after the Napoleonic Wars wreaked havoc on the traditional order.
Italy and the French Revolution—The real story of the Unification of Italy began with the French conquest of Italy during the French Revolutionary Wars. Italy had been invaded many times before, with no great change it its traditional boundaries, but the French invaders of 1796 deposed princes, set up client governments, confiscated and redistributed Church property, and ministered according to "enlightenment" principles. After combining most of the northern duchies into the "Cisalpine Republic", the French invaded the Papal States, kidnapped the Pope, and created a short-lived Roman Republic. The French occupation of Italy was unpopular, however, partly because of the rapacious plunder of the revolutionary army, but also because of the anti-Catholic bigotry of the French Revolutionary government.
When Napoleon made himself emperor, he recognized the problems in Italy and sought to create a more stable government by repairing relations with the Pope. He healed the breach between the French government and the Catholic Church, declared France and Italy Catholic countries, and returned control of the Papal states to Pius VII. At the same time, he reformed the northern republics as the Kingdom of Italy, and appointed his relatives as monarchs in both northern and southern Italy. By 1815, when Napoleon's empire fell and the monarchies were restoried, the government of Italy had been in the hands of modern-minded ministers for nearly 20 years, and secret political societies such as the Freemasons and Carbonari had spread throughout the land. The old monarchies were restored, but the political landscape had changed forever especially in the Northern kingdoms most influenced by French ideas.
Cavour and the Rise of Piedmont-Sardinia—As the career of Mazzini declined a new mastermind of Italian unification arose. This was Cavour, the Prime Minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, the most liberal state in Italy. The king of Sardinia was Victor Emmanuel II, who later became the first king of Italy, but it was his prime minister who worked methodically to bring about the unification of Italy under the control of Sardinia. Cavour recognized that the only way to unify Italy was with the aid of foreign powers. He therefore cultivated relationships with France, Britain, and Prussia, all of whom played key roles in "Risorgimento". Cavour's first step was to send Sardinian troops to fight in the Crimean War in order to cultivate diplomatic and military relations between Sardinia, England, and France. This paid off in 1860 when France agreed to help Sardinia drive Austria out of northern Italy in return for the provinces of Nice and Savoy. This arrangment suceeded in bringing most of northern Italy under Sardinian control, but it infuriated Garibaldi, a native of Nice. He considered Cavour and Victor Emmanuel opportunists and traitors to Italy, but worked with them nevertheless.
Cavour had hoped that France, led by Napoleon III, would continue to fight against Austria after the successful battle of Solferino, but instead Napoleon negotiated a peace settlement that gave Sardinia control of most of Northern Italy but allowed Austria continued rule over Venice. Although Napoleon III personally favored Italian unification he knew his Catholic subjects would revolt if he moved against Rome and he was dissillusioned at the lack of popular support for unification. Inspite of this disappointment, Cavour was able to integrate the duchies of Parma, Modena, and Tuscany into his newly expanded government, after holding them temporarily as a client republic.
Garibaldi and the Kingdom of Sicily—Having exhausted France as an ally in his program to unite Italy, Cavour now launched an even more ambitious scheme with the help of Britain, in order to annex southern Italy to his domains. With the help of Mazzini, Garibaldi, and Britain, a plan was made to invade Sicily by sea. Garibaldi was by far the most popular hero of Italy so he was chosen to lead the expedition with a band of 1000 "volunteers". Both Sardinia and Britain were involved in planning the mission but thought it prudent to disavow official involvement. For both political and propaganda purposes it was important that the "rebellion" in Sicily appear to be a popular uprising. In fact, dozens of Neopolitian officers had been bribed in advance to surrender and the British navy prevented loyal troops from interferring in the "rebellion". Garibaldi's brilliant campaign in Sicily, including the miraculous "surrender" of 15,000 Royalist troops at Palermo, was entirely orchestrated behind the scenes by secret societies and foreign governments, but all credit was given to the fearless Italian patriot.
Annexing Venice and Rome—Militarily, the Kingdom of Italy was now strong enough to overthrow Rome but Cavour knew that as long as the French were protecting the region, annexing Rome was would risk war. He turned his focus to fostering a relationship with Prussia, Austria's enemy to the north, in hopes of making an alliance to recover Venice. Although Cavour did not live to see his plans come true, in 1866 Italy marched an army into Venice at the very start of the Austro Prussian War. This split Austria's forces, and even though the Italians were defeated in battle, the Prussians insisted that Austria cede control of Venice when terms of peace were negotiated.
Italy also had Prussia to thank for its acquisition of Rome four years later, when French troops were forced to withdraw their protection from Rome as a result of the Franco Prussian War. Left unguarded, the Pope had only a small volunteer force to protect him. After a short, symbolic battle, the Italians assumed control of Rome, but the Pope declined to recognize the new government and refused to leave the premesis of the Vatican for the rest of his reign. Other Popes followed suit, and for the next 59 years, the Papacy continued to uphold its historic claim to the city of Rome, while the Pope was kept as a "Prisoner in the Vatican". It was not until 1929 that the Lateran treaty was signed and Vatican City became an independent state. Only then did the Pope recognize the legitimacy of Italian control of Rome.After Unification—Unfortunately, the first few decades of Italian independence were not a particularly good example of democratic government. The government was extremely corrupt and a great deal of the land confiscated from the church and southern aristocrats fell into the hands of rapacious property owners. Taxes and rents were raised to support the political class, while over nine million Italians migrated to North and South America between 1861 and 1920. The flow of Italians out of Italy did not diminish until the Fascist government that arose in the 1920s began to restrict immigration.
The rise of Prussia, from an insignificant duchy on the far reaches of the Holy Roman Empire to one of the leading states of Europe was one of the most important developments of the 18th century. Prussia's remarkable growth in influence was due to both military achievements and government philosophy. Its dominion grew most strikingly under the reign of Frederick the Great, but Prussian leaders both before and afterward increased Prussian influence by establishing a free customs zone, permitting freedom of worship, and enforcing state-sponsored compulsory education. By 1860 Prussia was poised to replace Austria as the dominant state in the German-speaking realms.
The Hohenzollerns of Prussia—The first notable member of the House of Hohenzollern—the rulers of Brandenburg and Prussia—was the Great Elector. He was a well-respected military leader during the Great Northern War and he passed laws to encourage immigration of industrious Huguenots to his realm. Since his dominions were already populated with Calvinists, Lutherans, and Catholics, religious toleration was already an accepted fact of life, so edicts granting "religious freedom" were more readily accepted than they were in realms with a single religious tradition. The Great Elector left his realms in such a prosperous condition that his son was able to elevate the status of Prussia from a Duchy and crown himself the first King of Prussia.
The Great Elector's grandson was Frederick William I. He, like his grandfather, was frugal and a strong military leader. He left his kingdom with a large well-drilled army and a full treasury so when Frederick II (the Great) came to the throne he was able to undertake an unprecedented campaign of expansion. Frederick II is the most famous King of Prussia and in may ways he established the character of the nation. He combined a fearless determination in military matters with a tyrannical dedication to efficiency and order. He was thoroughly up-to-date with the "enlightened" ideas of the age, and made many reforms in agriculture, education, taxation, commerce, and civil service. He was also a dedicated patron of the arts, science, and literature, and noteably, he was one of the first openly atheistic monarchs of Europe. He welcomed freethinkers such as Voltaire to his court and mocked many aspects of Christianity. Frederick II's modern outlook on religion and government brought great prosperity to his kingdom but also made Prussia a hub of heretical doctrines, from Freemasonry to Rosicrucianism.
Ten years after the close of the Seven Year's War Frederick had another opportunity to enlarge his dominions, this time at the expense of Poland. By 1772, when the outlying territories of Poland were first partitioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia, Poland was already a Russian client-state, and the partition had more to do with Russian diplomacy than Polish sovereign rights. Nevertheless, Maria Theresa objected to the partition, and only participated in the project to prevent further enlargement of Prussia. When the final partition of Poland occurred, twenty years later, Maria Theresa was no longer around to express doubts, and the quaint notion of hereditary rights of sovereign kings was on the verge of being blown to smithereens by the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. After hundreds of years of Christian rule, Europe was perilously close returning to the age when territorial disputes were resolved by "right of Conquest"—the very doctrine that all the Christian monarchies of Europe were established to oppose.
The "Enlightened Despots"—Maria Theresa was an outspoken critic of Frederick the Great and saw his disregard for sovereign rights, traditional institutions, and the Church as a threat to the stability of Europe. But he was a popular role model for a new generation of European monarchs, including Maria's own son Joseph II, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Charles III of Spain. These "enlightened despots" sought to modernize their kingdoms and they admired Frederick's ability to centralize power in his own hands, throw off tradition and precedent, and make dramatic reforms to government. The monarchies of Europe were never dictatorships, but rather, complicated bureaucracies run by nobles and churchmen with all sorts of hereditary privileges, monopolies, and fiefdoms. Frederick's freedom to disregard traditional power arrangements was due to the fact that Prussia was a small and young nation, but the fact that he had successfully resisted vastly larger, more powerful nations, and held a great deal of direct power in his own hands won him much admiration from young reform-minded monarchs.
Once Joseph II ascended to the throne of Austria, he tried to implement a number of dramatic reforms that had been blocked by his sincerely Catholic mother. He abolished serfdom and extended freedom of the press, but much of his activity was directed against the autonomy of the Catholic Churches. He close monasteries, confiscated church property, appointed bishops loyal to the government, cut off contact between Austrian bishops and the Curia in Rome, and turned religious schools, including seminaries over to state control. His policies were so anti-clerical they were thought to be the work of the Freemasons, and it was not until the death of Joseph, on the eve of the French Revolution, that the persection of the Church in Austria abated.
Prussia and Austria under Napoleon—Meanwhile in Prussia, the throne had descended to Frederick William II, the nephew of Frederick the Great. He was a weak leader and rolled back some of Frederick's more unpopular laws and policies. He also failed to maintain the Prussian army at exactly the time it was most essential, the opening years of the French Revolution. As a result, the Prussians withdrew from the anti-French coalition in 1793 after their first defeat at the Battle of Valmy and thirteen years later Napoleon over ran Prussia at the disastrous battle of Jena-Auerstadt. Napoleon essentially dismantled Prussia and partitioned all of her recently acquired territories. Fortunately, Frederick William II's reign did not last long and his son, Frederick William III, was a more disciplined and conscientious leader. He continued to drill the Prussian army even during the years of French occupation so when the opportunity to oppose France finally arose they were among the best prepared soldiers in Europe. The Prussian army, under the leadership of Marshal Blucher was key to the allied victories at the Battles of Leipzig and Waterloo and Prussia's reputation as one of the leading powers of Europe was restored. Most of Prussia's lost territory was restored at the Congress of Vienna, but the Prussian hatred of France smoldered for another generation.
Metternich and the Restoration—The state of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 was quite desperate. Virtually every country had been over-run and ancient institutions uprooted. Millions had been killed in the wars, and shifting alliances and ideas of government caused distrust and cross-purposes even among the allies. As host of the Congress of Vienna, the Austrian diplomat Metternich, was in charge of putting humpty dumpty back together again, and given the extremely challenging circumstances, the Congress of Vienna introduced a remarkably stable new order. Austria did well; regaining much of her lost territory in Italy and central Europe, but Prussia was also allowed a generous influence and even France was treated fairly. Other than the Wars of Italian Unification, and German Unification, which occured between 1859 and 1870, Europe enjoyed a century of peace and prosperity.
German Arts and Culture—It is important to note that Germans in both Austrian and Prussia were influential in the arts, sciences, and education reform during the 18th and 19th centuries. This period saw the careers of Mozart, Beethoven, and Joseph Haydn, in Music, and Kant, Hoffman, and Goethe in literature and Philosophy. Most influentially, however, the Prussian model of compulsory elementary education and state sponsored, secular Universities were extremely influential, not only in Europe, but in the United States as well.
For much of the 19th century, Prussia was one of the most widely admired governments in Europe and the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership was considered a boon to the cause of peace. Even countries, such as France and Russia, that were historical enemies of Germany sought to duplicate her success and attempted to reform their governments based on the Prussian model of a centralized, bureaucratic, and thoroughly secular administration. The German model of compulsory education for children and non-sectarian universities was especially admired and was influential in developing public school systems and Universities throughout the west. And many other aspects of German government, especially its pragamatism, organization, and ability to adapt quickly to advances in science and technology was thought to be an ideal way for a thoroughly modern nation to be administered.
The transition of Germany from an admired member of the European community to the arch-villain, mass-murdering Nazi's of the 20th century cannot be understood by political developments alone, since philosophy and culture drove policy. Reading German philosophers such as Neitzsche or Shopenhauer is likely to give a better window into German thought than a history of the wars of German Unification. Many 19th century German leaders were greatly influenced by Darwinism, German superiority, and the idea of an inevitable struggle among races for domination. Bernhardi's Our Island Story, Germany and the Next War, published in 1911, layed out Germany's justification for wars of aggression in explicit terms. Reviewing the political history of 19th century Germany, however, is necessary to understanding the context of German philosophy, and the inevitable fate of a nation ruled by falliable men who fail to acknowledge a higher law then their own.The Congress of Vienna—The first concern of the Congress of Vienna that met to decide the fate of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars was to define spheres of influence among the five great powers of Europe in such a way that future wars could be averted. The top priority of the generation that had suffered through the Napoleonic Wars was peace. They remembered only the anarchy and tyranny of republican governments, and considered liberal agitators, who spoke up for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and greater political power for the masses as trouble-makers and atheist revolutionaries, rather than liberators.
The Revolutions of 1848—In 1848, a rebellion in France overthrew the liberal-monarchy of Louis Philippe and a republican government was briefly established. At the same time, rebellions broke out in many cities throughout Europe, especially in regions of Italy and Germany were secret poliltical societies had been active. The demands of the revolutionaries varied. In Rome, the pope was driven into exile, and a small band of revolutionaries took over the undefended city, and declared a republican government. In Northern Italy, revolutions in Milan and Venice were directed against the Austrian government and were put down during the First War of Italian Unification. At the same time, there was an Uprising in Hungary, led by Louis Kossuth which led to a series of conflicts throughout the Balkans and riots in Vienna. The rebellions in Austria's dominions were eventually put down but not before the Austrian king had resigned and Metternich, the archconservative Prime Minister was forced to flee the country.
Rebellions also occured in the capital cities of the Northern German states, including Prussia, but they varied in severity and were directed by local concerns as well as German nationalism. The 1848 rebellions caught the monarchies of Europe off-guard but most were put down without a great deal of bloodshed by promising changes such as parliamentary elections, a constitution, and freedom of the press. Once the immediate threat of disorder was resolved, however, most German governments made only superficial changes. In order to address the issue of German nationalism, an elected parliament was convened at Frankfort with the intention of writing a constitution for a United Germany, but the negotiations did not go well and both Austria and Prussia declined to participate. Instead, Prussia instituted a parliament that included two legislative houses but left all real power with the king. At one point, the Frankfort parliament offered the crown of Germany to the Prussian king, Frederick William IV, but he refused a crown that was subject to an elected parliament.
Bismarck was elected to the first Prussian parliament in 1847 and gained a reputation for opposing liberal schemes and advocating for the sovereign rights of monarchs. He participated in the Frankfort conference in 1849 but with the intention of blocking German Unification under a parliamentary order. For much of the eighteen fifties he served as Prussian ambassador to Russia and France and his knowledge of the internal politics of those countries served him extremely well in the following years. When Kaiser William I came to the throne in 1861 he was appointed Prime Minister and in this position was able to resolve a number of issues with parliament in the kings favor. In doing so he was opposed by most liberals but earned the trust of the king and the army.
During the next eight years Bismarck was able to provoke and decisively win three critical wars against neighboring powers. The Schleswig-Holstein War against Denmark resulted in "independence" for the Danish provinces of Schleswig-Holstein; the Austro Prussian War excluded Austria from the German Union and gave Prussia uncontested leadershp of the northern German states; and the Franco Prussian War humbled France and gained for Germany the strategic Rhine provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In each case, Bismarck laid the groundwork by preventing alliances between Prussia's neighbors and using diplomatic provocations to goad his opponents into rashly declaring a war for which they were unprepared. In each case, the Prussian military, led by Helmuth von Moltke, had prepared for every contingency and was able to deliver a quick and decisive victory before Prussia's antagonist had rallied their forces.
Each of Bismarck's wars increased Prussia's influence among German nations and added territory to German dominions. Furthermore, the peace treaties Prussia signed with her vanquished foes had far-reaching consequences. Bismarck made easy terms with Austria because he wanted to count her as an ally in the future, but he insisted that she ceded Venice to the kingdom of Italy. He made very hard terms with France to insure that the Rhinish provinces would never again fall under French control. But his most compelling purpose in waging war against France was to unify the German provinces, and demonstrate the power of a united Germany. In this he succeded famously and, and the combined provinces of Germany declared Willliam I emperor of Germany while while Prussian troops where still engaged in the siege of Paris.
Much of Bismarck's final years were spent combatting socialism. He did this by outlawing the Socialist party, and passing "social insurance" legislation that provided for disabilities and old-age pensions. This was a radical step for an autocratic government but was in keeping with his tendency to increase state power and reduce the autonomy of regional governments and the influence of the church. These measures reduced the influence of the Socialist party, but liberals and social Democrats continued to thwart his effort, until he was finally relieved of office by Kaiser William II.
Germany after Bismarck—No strong leader emerged to take the reigns in Germany after Bismarck retired and over the years German diplomacy floundered. Bismarck had forged a strong alliance with Russia, made peace with Austria, and fostered ties with Great Britain. But all off these alliances suffered under Kaiser William II's leadership. The young Kaiser was rash and arrogant and his approach to statesmanship was heavy-handed. Ambitious generals in the German military watched in frustration as Russia made a defensive pact with France. Britian also took offense at some of the Kaiser's public statements regarding the Boer War and were also disturbed at his aggressive build-up of the German navy. Germany was jealous of Britain's colonial holdings, and took a threatening stance during conflicts in Africa and the Balkans. As a result, Britain drew closer to France in order to prevent Germany from upsetting the balance of power on the continent.
Germany's relationship with France was never positive but it took a turn for the worse after the Morrocan crisis of 1905. Another area of tension was the Balkans and Turkey as both Russia and Austria sought to increase their influence in the domains of the declining Ottoman Empire. The Servo-Bulgarian Wars of 1912-13 freed Bulgaria from Ottoman control but this only increased tensions in the region as Austria, Russia, and Serbia sought to increase their spheres of influence. By 1914, many statesmen in both Germany and the west realized that war was inevitable, but virtually no one imaged the scale of destruction, mayhem, and barbarism that was unleashed by the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne.
Russia was a large and populous country, but its rise as a European power did not begin until the rule of Peter the Great in the early 1700s. Being mostly landlocked, it was physically isolated from much of the rest of Europe, and its association with the Orthodox, rather then the Catholic Church, separated it religiously as well. During the late middle ages Russia was under the influence of the Mongol Khanates and never experienced either the Reformation or Renaissance that influenced Western Europe. When Peter the Great came to power Russia was a potentially powerful but backward country and he made it his mission to modernize the great state, often against enormous resistance.Peter the Great—From his youth, Peter was influenced by the inventiveness and sophistication of Western Europe and dedicated his life to the project of forcibly modernizing Russia. He was tyrannical in his determination to remake his backward country into modern nation because he saw clearly that if Russia did not modernize she would be defenseless against foreign enemies. He believed that opening the door to western ways was the key to Russia's survival and he relied heavily on foreigners in his administration.
The two most important long-term effects of Peter's reign were opening up Russian academies and organizations to western influence and reorganizing the Russian army and civil service under a bureaucracy based on rank. Both of these measures reduced the influence of the noble classes by opening government offices to men based on merit and education. There was resistance to Peter's modernization program and many setbacks over the following century but the doors to western influences stayed open and the Russia's ties to Western Europe only increased.
Empresses of the 18th century—From the death of Peter the Great, the throne of Russia passed through an irregular succession, and was in the hands of Empresses all but four of the next seventy years. Of the four great Russian Empresses of the 18th century, Catherine I (1725-27), Anne (1730-40), Elizabeth of Russia (1741-62), and Catherine the Great (1762-96), only one, Elizabeth, was a direct decendent of Peter. Anne was a niece rather than a daughter and both Catherines were Empress consorts without any Romanov blood. All of the Russian Empresses gained their thrones with the support of the army and Palace guards, rather than by regular succession.
Peter III was greatly influenced by his German upbringing and admired Frederick the Great, so when Elizabeth died, he recalled Russian troops from their alliance with Austria. This so infuriated the rest of the court that he was overthrown in a coup d'etat and his wife Catherine, who was popular with the army and imperial guard, given the throne. She ruled for over thirty years, during which time Russia greatly increased in influence and prosperity.
During the reign of Catherine II, Russia increased her territory to the west at the expense of Poland and to the south at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Russia had been gaining territory against the Ottoman Turks since the age of Peter the Great but during Catherine II's reign Russia annexed the Ukraine and the Crimea and positioned itself to help drive the Ottomans out of the Balkan peninsula.
Alexander I and the Napoleonic Wars—Catherine's son Paul I only ruled for a short time before he was assassinated by his enemies. His son Alexander I came to the throne just as Napoleon assumed power in France and was a resolute enemy of the French Empire. He fought with Austria at Austerlitz and opposed the French in Prussia, but made peace after the devastating battle of Friedland. It was only a temporary peace, however, and a few years later Napoleon invaded Russia. Alexander supported the scorched earth policy of retreat promoted by Barclay de Tolly even though it was deeply unpopular with many Russian, and after Napoleon's disastrous retreat, led a Russian army to pursue him all the way to Paris.
Alexander I was a prominent figure during the Congress of Vienna and afterward made an alliance with Prussia and Austria dedicated to putting down liberal rebellions throughout Europe. He permitted the resurrection of Poland as a client-state of Russia and appointed his brother Constantine as King of Poland, leaving the Russian Empire to his youngest brother Nicholas I.
Russian Emperors of the 19th Century—The Russian Czars of the later 19th century included Nicholas I (1825-55), Alexander II(1855-81), Alexander III (1881-94), and Nicholas II (1894-1917). Nicholas I reigned during a turbulant period in Europe and proved to be a conservative defender of autocracy. He supported Greek Independence during a war with the Turks in the 1820's, but a few years later sent an army to put down a rebellion in Poland. He continued to war with the Turks, but as Russia gained territory the other powers of Europe began to fear its influence. The Crimean War saw the unlikely alliance between England, France, and Turkey united to limit Russian influence in the Black Sea region. After a monumental struggle, the Russians were defeated and Nicholas I died soon after.
In order to oppose the outrages of the anarchist "Nihilists" and other politically radical groups, Alexander III ruled as a conservative autocrat who championed Orthodoxy and Russian nationalism. He passed laws that persecuted Jews and forcibly "Russianized" minorities in his realms but these measures only fueled the rebellious factions. He avoid war, however, in spite of provocations by Germany and Bulgaria. By the 1890s he began to regard Germany as a threat and made a mutual-defense treaty with France, but he kept Russia at peace for his reign of fourteen years.
Conflicts over Constantinople and the Balkans—It had been the object of all of the Czars since they began fighting the Ottoman Empire, to reconquer Constantinople for Christendom. During Alexander II's reign, Russia fought two successful wars against Turkey, helped to liberate the Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria from the Ottoman Yoke and marched to the walls of Constantinople (Czargrad). But Russia's hopes were again frustrated by a fleet of British warships and behind-the-scenes politicking by Austria and Germany. Once it became clear that the western allies feared a powerful Russia too much to permit the conquest of Turkey and would be willing to go to war to prevent Russian expansion, Russia made an uneasy peace with the Ottomans.
Unfortunately, the outward peace between Russia and Turkey masked a complicated power struggle in the Balkans. Serbia wanted to annex parts of Austria inhabited by Serbs, Russia wanted hegemony over the Balkan slavs, and Germany wanted to increased influence in the Balkans and the opportunity to establish a port on the Persian gulf. Britain had complicated entanglements in both Turkey and Egypt, and wanted to keep other powers from dominating former Ottoman territory. To complicate things further there was great ethnic strife in the region and a bitter history of atrocities and forced evacuations. The Balkans were a powder-keg, and in the late 19th century a German statesman accurately predicted "If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans".
Under pressure to create a legislative body, Nicholas II permitted the creation of a "Duma" as an advisory body. Unfortunately the early Dumas were dominated by radicals who could not work effectively with the Emperor, and they had little influence in the government until the outbreak of the Great war. When Nicholas II was deposed during the 1917 Revolution, the Duma was the body by which the Mensheviks, and later the Bolsheviks came to power.
Since the age of Napoleon, Russia had been considered one of the Great powers of Europe and even Britain feared her military strength. But military technology and tactics had changed so much in the late 19th century that Russia's long period of peace in Europe left her utterly unprepared for the conflict thrust upon her in 1914. The Russian army was enormous, but mere numbers could not oppose Germany's efficient and uptodate war machine. Russia suffered horrendous losses, privations, and loss of territory during the Great War, and with Nicholas II away at the Front, the government at home fell into chaos. After months of protests and near anarchy the Duma appointed a "provisional government" and forced Nicholas II to resign on March 15, 1917. The Russian Revolution was underway.
The first thing to understand about the First World War of the 20th century, is that it was, by every measure, incomparable to all wars that proceded it. The war began almost exactly 100 years after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, which were themselves, unprecedented in duration and scope. Keeping in mind that all war casualty estimates are inexact, the two wars can be compared as follows:
|War||Duration||Military Deaths||Civilian Deaths||Wounded|
|Napoleonic Wars||12 years||2.5-3.5 Million||1-3 Million||???|
|Great War||4 years||~10 Million||7 Million||20 Million|
Mesopotamia and Palestine—After an initial disastrous campaign in Mesopotamia, in which most of a British army was besieged in Kut en route to Baghdad, the allied campaigns in Iraq and Palestine were generally successful. By attacking from British strongholds in the Persian Gulf and Egypt, several British armies were able to land successfully, secure their supply lines, and over run the southern portions of the Ottoman Empire. They were helped in these endeavors by an Arab rebellion, led by Lawrence of Arabia, a British archeologist who had spent several years traveling in Arabia and befriending important sheiks. The first allied victory in the area was the successful capture of Baghdad by General Maude in early 1917. This was followed up by a series of successful campaigns in Palestine and Syria by General Allenby. Jerusalem fell to the British in late 1917, and most important cities in Syria were in British hands by early 1918.
Dissolution of the British Empire—The immediate effects of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the Great War, was to add Egypt, Iraq and Palestine to Britain's dominions. These new acquisitions were the result of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Long term, however, the Great War portended the ultimate dissolution of the Empire. The war had crippled Britain economically, decreased its hold upon its colonies, and most importantly severely diminished its will to power. Britain's war debt was enormous and lead to destabilizing inflation. The Anglo-Irish war of 1919 lead to Ireland's independence from Great Britain in 1922. A few years later the Balfour Declaration of 1926 suggested that the imperial possessions of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Newfoundland, and South Africa be governed in cooperation with, but independently of Britain. This arrangement was set formally sent forth in 1931 in the Statute of Westminster. Gradually almost all other British possessions gained their independence: Iraq in 1932, India in 1947, Burma in 1948, Egypt in 1953, Nigeria and South Africa in 1960, and Kenya in 1963. Hong Kong was ceded back to the China in 1997. Today the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland enjoys commonwealth trade relations with most of its former colonies, but it directly governs only the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, and the British West Indies.