From Napoleon to Bismarck
Periodically, I would like to post my history discussion notes here. Here’s the first of (hopefully) many.
While Napoleon was exiled to the Island of Elba down in the Mediterranean, the world powers set out to reformulate France and bring some semblance of order to Europe. While the Bourbon family was once again in power via Louis XVIII (and he was at first welcomed) the émigrés who rushed in at the first signs of peace had many other ideas for the future of France. Napoleon gave the French a year and allowed the Quadruple Alliance (Russia, England, Austria, and Prussia) to busy themselves with the Congress of Vienna which was tasked with the object of putting Europe back together. Boundary disputes, as well as trying to figure out which countries should or should not exist and who ought to be their rightful rulers kept things moving fairly slowly.
Meanwhile, Napoleon escaped from his exile in Elba and landed in France on March 1, 1815. Many French joined Napoleon’s forces, and he marched north towards Belgium. The allied forces united once again, and under the command of the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon was soundly defeated at Waterloo. Here another peace treaty was signed with France, albeit where the first treaty had been a mere slap on the hand this new treaty actually punished the people of France for their uprising. This time, Napoleon was exiled to a British colony named St. Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic. You can find it on a map near 15° south of the equator between Brazil, South America and Angola, Africa. This was finally enough for Napoleon to make an end of his political career.
Romanticism is a term that refers to a number of different ideas or movements from the French Revolution until around the middle of the nineteenth century. A ‘Romantic’ in this sense is not necessarily someone who is ‘in love’. But there is some connection. A ‘Romantic’ in this historical sense was someone who sought to live with his/her heart and mind. Many of this period believed that prior to this time, there had been too much emphasis on the intellect (just the mind). We considered this in our discussions about the Enlightenment (circa 1650ish-1750ish). Romantics wanted to be realistic and thoughtful, but they also wanted to be human, giving value to emotions and feelings. We have seen through studying the French Revolution that this is not always a good thing. The French were in many ways a very ‘Romantic’ people in this sense. They had passion for the eradication of the old medieval ways of life and the Christian foundations of their government.
The term ‘Romantic’ comes originally from the name Rome. The Roman language of Latin changed and grew up into several different languages: Spanish, Italian, and French. These languages were originally simply called ‘Roman’ but eventually became known as the ‘romance’ languages. Again this didn’t mean that you spoke these languages when you loved someone. It just referred to the fact that they had originated from Rome and the Roman Empire.
Romanticism expressed itself in many ways. Poetry and art experienced a renaissance particularly showing great interest in nature and history. Again, sometimes this was for the better, truly seeing Creation as the work of God, but other times it became a sort of Pantheistic worship (i.e. seeing God in everything and in no way independent of His creation). The study of history was good for some encouraging many to revert to the faith of their fathers and thus Christianity enjoyed somewhat of a rejuvenation. But for others, studying history was an opportunity to exalt the paganism of the ancients or to idolize particular portions of history, glossing over the failures and weaknesses of some men.
But Romanticism also valued the protection and care of the less fortunate. In England, John Howard started prison reforms in the 1780s seeking to make prisons livable. The Earl of Shaftesbury pushed legislation to protect women and children from being over worked. Church organizations were formed to protect orphans and widows. Clara Barton founded the Red Cross during this era. Missions exploded into many far reaching lands bringing with it not only the gospel but medical aid and education. The education of women and children came to have higher value. In America one Mr. Audubon sailed down the Mississippi looking for birds to paint or draw. His 435 depictions in 1838 were the beginning of the fabulous Audubon Guide series that is available today surveying many aspects of creation.
The Romantics loved a Hero. Sir Walter Scott is a fine example of a Romantic giving us historical tales full of color, action, love, and the Hero (e.g. Ivanhoe). The hero had no need of being perfect or flawless, the hero was merely a man or woman who could inspire imagination. Proof that this is the case is that Waterloo, the scene of Napoleon’s defeat, is a term always describing defeat. It is never used to describe victory even though it was the victory for the Quadruple Alliance. But the Romantics, though disposed not to have Napoleon as their leader, nevertheless loved him as their hero, a man full of vigor and life and wit.
Related to Romanticism was growth in industry and technology. The imagination and spirit of the ‘Romantics’ prevailed even in the sciences and technology, joining art to engineering. Furniture, carpet, doors, pillars, tombstones all became more common and expected. Biology was the science of the day, with Evolution catching the imaginations of many young naturalists. Electricity was also in the works. Napoleon said this in 1802: “I wish to award the sum of six thousand francs as encouragement to the person who will advance our knowledge of electricity. It is my aim to urge physicists to concentrate on that branch of physics, which in my opinion is the road to great discoveries.”
Other important advances were the use of levers and pulleys. Before around 1800 all work was done by hand or simple hand tools. But levers and pulleys made moving large objects or large quantities easier. The use of water and wind to manipulate objects and also began around this time. This large scale shift from using hand tools to various kinds of powered machinery had a great influence on life and culture during this period, particularly in England. For example, in the early 1700s, John Kay invented a ‘fly shuttle’ which allowed only one person to operate a loom rather than two. With this upsurge in yarn production, by the late 1700s, the ‘spinning jenny’ was invented that could weave multiple strands of yarn or threads together. Finally with the huge demand for cotton, it was difficult for farmers to keep up, but the ‘cotton gin’ was invented by the American Eli Whitney which made the removal of seeds from cotton much faster. The businessmen who ran the production of various kinds of cloth quickly realized that it was most efficient to have all of the production taking place in one place. These large buildings became known as ‘mills’ in England and ‘factories’ in America. The machinery on the farms tended to decrease the need for farm hands and the factories and mills (even with their new machines) tended to increase the need for workers. Thus many people moved from the country into cities looking for work and many ended up working in factories creating cloth, fabric, leathers, and other crafted items.
Nationalism and the Beginning of Germany
You should remember that there hasn’t always been a country named Germany. For a long time there were lots of different peoples that lived in that land that we now call Germany. The most prominent government that was ever there was the Holy Roman Empire, but that was still not what we would think of as a country. It had more to do with loyalties to an emperor. And even then, during and after the Protestant Reformation especially, the princes or barons of various counties and districts often had a kind of independence from the empire. It was not until Napoleon Bonaparte that the modern picture of Germany began to appear. Napoleon, after marching through Europe realized that the only way he would be able to rule it all was to organize it. Thus even though the Germanic peoples had never considered themselves one country, Napoleon saw that uniting them would make his job of governing them easier. He organized them into the Confederation of the Rhine.
Even after Napoleon, the Quadruple Alliance had continued to consider the Confederation in some ways as a single unit, and for various reasons the Germans themselves began to have inklings of the same idea. This growing sense of loyalty and identity with one’s country is what is known as Nationalism, and while it had been a growing reality in many other countries before now, it became a reality under the organization of Napoleon. It began merely as a loose confederation called the German Confederation recognized in 1815, after the removal of Napoleon. This confederation was made up of 39 states, the largest of which were Austria and Prussia down to a number of small kingdoms and a few free cities. This loose confederation was not much, but it was the beginning. In 1848, a series of revolutions echoed throughout Europe, sort of the last hurrahs of the French Revolution. These revolutions were small and scattered and were put down. The revolution that occurred in Germany was an attempt by a few to unite Germany into one common government. The attempt failed, but the movement was still on.
In 1862, the king of Prussia appointed a new chief minister, Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck was a ‘Junker’(pronounced “yoonker”), meaning that he had grown up in the ranks of the professional Prussian military. Bismarck was a Protestant Christian, and he was not a revolutionary. He favored the old hierarchies, but he was also a prudent and wise man and sought to bring peace and stability to his own Prussian people. Beginning in 1867, Bismarck began making huge steps towards uniting Germany. In that year, he united all of the kingdoms north of Prussia under a new Northern German Confederation. And by 1871, apart from Austria, a number of other kingdoms had been added. This unification was far strong than the first confederation and made the king of Prussia its head. This confederation or German Empire (as it is sometimes referred to) was largely the land and peoples that we know today as Germany. In fact Germany remained the same until 1918 after World War I. Bismarck accomplished this great feat of unification by eliminating the political leaders in his way and establishing a government that pleased the people.
Nationalism is perhaps one of the greatest rivals to Christendom. While simple loyalties and honor are always due to one’s nation and leaders they ought not to ever become the center. As more and more people looked to their respective states with hope for a brighter tomorrow, they were simultaneously turning from the Church (many times unintentionally), the Mother who bore them. Of course this didn’t begin with simple rebellion, it began with the utter failure and ruin of the Church. The utter debauchery of her leaders, divisiveness and rifts within the body of Christ, and growing disallusionment the earthy loyalty of faith all served to remove every semblance of glory.