Deciding on What Is Tolerable
Romanticism and Revolution
How soon we forget history...
- George Washington
England went through the Romantic period first (from 1798 - 1832). America's was delayed by several years. The American period was not just a mirror of England's because life in the New World showed the new approaches that were beginning to differentiate them. However, English and American Romanticism had many similar characteristics.
Brit Sir Walter Scott died in 1832. He had founded the genre of the historical novel in England (such as Ivanhoe; in America, Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales was similar). A democratic reform was taking place in England by the end of the period. Reform Laws were passed which led into the Victorian period. Gerrymandering had become a problem and Lords were selling representation. New laws abolished tiny towns altogether and reduced the representation of smaller towns - this was able to be done because only the payers of large taxes had the right to vote. The monarchy was moving in the right direction, but very very slowly.
The characteristics of Romantic Period included faith in the instinctive goodness of human beings (started by the Enlightenment), an accurate description of Nature for description's sake (and also sometimes with mysticism attached). There was an interest in humanitarian movements and reforms and also a noticeable kindness to animals; one could find a marked interest in democratic reforms, the dignity of mankind and the "noble savage" or primitive man. Styles of writing included gothic schools, schools of terror and historical novels. New Man was free, individual, imaginative (where previously he had been logical, ordered and rational). The idea of things changing was a constant theme.
By 1800, the population of the 17 states in the US would total 7 million (and in the next 50 years, it would more than quadruple). Americans were feeling that all white men were created equal and that the US was spiritually supreme. (Native Americans, Spanish Americans, African Americans and women may not have agreed with that assessment, though.) This was the so-called Age of Romanticism.
Destinations of Enslaved Africans in the Atlantic Slave Trade, c1450 — 1870
Romanticism in America was brought about primarily through these influences: a refutation of the strictures of Puritanism, a reaction to the onset of the industrial age, a rejection of the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the openness of America’s frontier and continual and pervasive changes in the growing country driven by the continual influx of immigrants. Romanticism was characterised by a desire to escape from reality, a sensitivity to beauty, an acceptance of the complete individual with his unknown potential and inevitable faults, and a willingness (at least temporarily) to suspend disbelief and accept the fantastic.
Puritanism had required people to doubt themselves and everyone else — no one was truly trusted. As Jonathan Edwards wrote in his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, “There is nothing between you and hell but the air…” Thus, the world in which a Puritan could feel comfortable that he would successfully achieve what he sought — the grace of God — did not really exist. When a person could not trust sinners such as himself, his family members, his neighbours, or even his pastor, how could faith continue, much less grow? Puritan churches offered their congregations the prospect of lives of unending misery. By granting neither trust nor worth to the individual, yet by placing great importance on “election” to heaven, Puritanism doomed itself and thus helped to pave the way for the Romantic period to come.
The transformation of America’s economic base from primarily agricultural to primarily industrial happened from the middle of the 18th century through the beginning of the 19th. Given impetus by Newton and by nascent scientific experimentation, the Enlightenment dislodged religion from its control of intellectual and cultural life. As education became available to a wider segment of the population, Deism spread as a religious belief. However, the Enlightenment proved imperfect as it fostered soulless rationalism and a sedate and stuffy world. At first, people felt progress could lead to human perfection, but they soon feared scientific advancement would submerge human individuality. A middle way between the Puritans and the machines had to exist — thus did Romanticism take root.
In America, Romanticism was augmented by the existence of an open frontier with its implication of "no limits." Perhaps due to this openness, there seemed to be a greater optimism for the future in America than in Europe. Still other factors influencing Romanticism in America were the huge numbers of immigrants entering the country and the massive changes being wrought in large part by this influx.
In contrast with the Enlightenment, the Romantic era was characterised by a quest for beauty, an emphasis on passion, creativity, the strange and exotic, the supernatural, an appreciation of both ancient and natural worlds, and a desire to escape from reality. It required a willing suspension of disbelief, choosing emotion over reason, subjectivity, and an acceptance of the dark side of human nature.
Two methods used to achieve the Romantic effect in literature included creating a setting remote in time or space and having an improbable plot. Moreover, Romantics looked to heroes: men who could be portrayed as larger than life and who demonstrated that it was possible to shape one’s life into what one most desired it to be. Writers created worlds which allowed for the complexity of individuals and which exercised a reader’s imagination and sympathy. For the half-century or so that it lasted, it spawned a rich body of literary work. The ideas it represented have remained a strong influence on the America of today.
*Samuel Swartwout (1783 - 1856) has been described as a "soldier, a merchant, a speculator, and a politician." Today he would probably be called a wheeler-dealer. In any case, he became a good friend of Andrew Jackson and worked hard to insure that Jackson was elected the 7th president in 1828. This brought him the appointment of collector of the port of New York in 1829, a very lucrative position. At the end of his term it was learned that Samuel had speculated with public funds in the amount of over $1 million. He sailed to Europe in 1838 before the discovery of the missing funds and lived in England until 1841. Returning to New York City, he lived in retirement until his death in 1856. His descendents claim that he suffered for the "criminal conspiracy of two of his dishonest employees."
The French and American Revolutions were very different - America’s was stable, with little bloodshed, but not so France’s! On the surface they looked similar but America did not need to overthrow a pre-existing government; they were wealthy and not starving or unemployed. It was a much more stable time, and theirs was really more of a war than a revolution. America’s founders were deists, not Catholics. In France, it was a true bloody revolution with the usual theme - poor versus rich. Also, after the revolution they couldn't agree on what they wanted to do - they vacillated and in the process killed lots more people.
One of the major problems that the National Assembly faced was when they tried to place the entire Catholic clergy under government control to get rid of the privileged First Estate. They required oaths of loyalty from the clergy and mandated that citizens could elect non-Catholics to church positions. This applied to all positions, from bishops to pastors. Unsurprisingly, half refused to take the oath and thus branded themselves enemies of the state.
During all this, Louis XVI was being held in prison, as some members of the National Assembly figured they may wish to re-instate the monarchy, albeit as a constitutional monarchy. However, this proved impractical; Louis tried to escape Paris, and foolishly left a nasty note condemning everything the National Assembly stood for. He was captured - and later beheaded (although Thomas Paine had tried to prevent this). Louis' actions made the legislative body figure there was no real chance of a constitutional monarchy working – leastways with him. So - they got rid of that problem.
Unfortunately the National Assembly was divided; they could not agree on the government of the future. The Legislative Assembly was comprised of the Jacobins and the Girondins. The Jacobins were radical; most wanted to get rid of the monarchy, penalise nobles, and become a democratic Republic. The Girondins were more moderate - representative of the educated, provincial middle class of the provinces, they were lawyers, journalists, and merchants who desired a constitutional government. Early in 1792, the Girondins had succeeded, against Maximilien Robespierre's opposition, in having war declared on Austria. They hoped to spread their revolution throughout Europe, getting rid of monarchies everywhere. However, they didn’t advocate the execution of Louis XVI – but, as it eventuated, they were unable to prevent it. They also opposed government interference in the economy.
In the National Convention, the Jacobins and other opponents of the Girondins sat in raised seats – and came to be called the Mountain. Their leaders – Maximilien Robespierre (right) and Louis de Saint-Just, among others – relied mainly on the strength of the Paris commune and the Parisian sans-culottes. They wanted to instate a Republic, throw out the monarchy, and institute heavier penalties to enemies of the revolution. Before Louis' execution, they had stormed the palace where he was being held many times and killed most (more than 600 members) of his Swiss guard. (Prior to that, they had made him wear a red hat – symbol of the revolution – to humiliate him.) Just to prove that when they go radical, they don't do it halfway, they also instated a new calendar that started over at year 1 to honour the new Republic in France. Once the Republic was up and running, the National Assembly had changed their name to the National Convention and held a vote about what to do with Louis. Ultimately, the decree to execute Louis XVI was decided by only a single vote. (That made him only barely dead.)
France was now at war with England, Austria and Prussia – all monarchies that France feared might threaten them some day. Later, the war spread to Spain and the Netherlands. All this revolutionary fervour caused other countries to get rather nervous. When France instigated hostilities, they reacted rather badly. Once France declared war on England, the people of America began to look on the French Revolution with mixed feelings. Hamilton and Jefferson were divided as to which side the US should be on. Hamilton said the US owed nothing to France and he didn’t think the treaty they had signed with them was still valid. Jefferson said that France was still a US ally and the treaty they had signed during the American Revolution was technically still in force. However, he still didn’t think that that should mean the US had to go to war. Eventually, this division of opinions resulted in the formation of Hamilton's Federalists, and Jefferson's Republicans – the origin of the first two political parties in the US. (The framers of the Constitution had not foreseen permanent political parties.)
Eventually, George Washington agreed with Jefferson in that America would still honour the treaty with France, but pointed out that the treaty stated that they should help France in defensive wars. Since France was the attacker in all current wars, Washington concluded that the US wasn’t obligated to help them fight.
George Washington's Farewell Address set the tone for American foreign policy for the next 100 years. (This fact will be useful later on.) His Farewell Address warned against the US engaging in "Entangling Alliances." He was really commenting on the political divisions directly caused by the treaty with France. The US needed to have alliances with other countries, but she wanted to keep her distance from the continual squabbles in Europe. Washington set the tone that American leaders continued to be mindful of. (Later, French officials released Americans from the terms of the treaty.)
One other thing happened during Washington's presidency to reinforce America's dislike of foreign politics. The French ambassador during the French Revolution was a man called Citizen Genêt (left). (Why Citizen? To emphasise Enlightenment equality.) Edmond Charles Édouard Genêt had the misfortune of landing in South Carolina, a state which was extremely pro-French. The people there welcomed him and when he saw all those celebrating masses adoring what was going on in France, he assumed all the US would be the same. He thought that, being French, he could do as he liked. As he travelled north to Philadelphia, he attempted to recruit soldiers to form armies fighting for France. By the time Genet arrived in Philadelphia, Washington was pissed and requested that France recall him. A proclamation was issued to the effect that everyone who wanted to help the French with their revolution should leave the country forthwith and go to it – at their own expense, of course. In 1794 France sent a replacement and demanded Genêt’s extradition. Washington, fearing the French would execute Genêt, allowed the Frenchman to remain in the United States and to become a US citizen.
Back to France: What was the state of the war in 1793? The war was not going particularly well, especially since it wasn’t overly popular with the majority. The Catholics and peasants felt they were no better off than before. This wasn’t helped by the attempt to instigate a draft. That action was met with wide-scale revolts and fighting. One hundred thousand French were killed in the attempt to enforce the draft. Would counterrevolutionaries cause hard-won ground to be lost? This was the context for the Reign of Terror, headed by Robespierre. The Jacobins were tightly organised, well-disciplined and convinced that they alone were responsible for saving and "managing" the Revolution from this point forward. On 22 June 1793, 80,000 armed sans-culottes surrounded the meeting halls of the National Convention and demanded the immediate arrest of the Girondin faction. The Convention yielded to the mob and 29 Girondin members of the Convention were arrested. After the fall of the Girondins (for which the Jacobins were largely responsible), the Jacobin leaders instituted the Reign of Terror to eliminate traitors who might try to slow the progress of the revolution (left or right – it didn’t matter).
Under Robespierre, who came to dominate the government, the Terror was used not only against counterrevolutionaries, but also against former allies of the Jacobins and against priests, nobles and aristocrats. Somewhere between 40 and 250 thousand people were arrested; many were guillotined. (See Methods of Capital Punishment for some interesting facts about the guillotine - including the date it was last used - which may surprise you.) Anyone could be accused. Robespierre said that the implementation of a new constitution should be delayed until the seeds of counterrevolution were stamped out by any means possible, wherever found. Mass executions, show trials, and massacres of presumed enemies of the state were just a few of the fun things that went on. Directed by the Committee of Public Safety, the revolutionary government's Terror was essentially a war dictatorship instituted to rule the country in a national emergency. During this phase, Marie Antoinette was guillotined. But more and more, the French people felt the Reign of Terror was going too far. Robespierre liked it because it gave him a huge amount of control.
Robespierre next tried to restructure the army. He used the guillotine to “season” them as there was a push to get rid of old officers whose sympathies might lie the “wrong” way, and to promote new, loyal officers who were better trained, though were not necessarily better men. This was one of the things that allowed for the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte.
France was having some military successes. They forced Austria’s retreat from Belgium. With French military success, popular discontent with the brutal measures at home grew evident. By this time the members of the committee were at odds with one another and with the Committee of General Security. The members of the National Convention, fearing that the new purge would be turned against them, joined forces with Robespierre's enemies on the committees and overthrew him on 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794). He tried to shoot himself but missed, and spent his last few hours with his jaw hanging off. He was guillotined the following day.
The Reign of Terror was followed by the Thermidorian reaction under a reconstituted Committee of Public Safety (1794) and by the White Terror, in which many former terrorists were executed. While the Reign of Terror answered the need for a strong executive and saved France from anarchy and military defeat, its effect upon public opinion, especially foreign opinion, was extremely harmful to the Revolutionary cause.
By 1795, the government had passed into the hands of the Directory – a 5-man executive body which tried to effect compromise among warring factions. The Directory attempted to rule from 1794 – 1799 but were ultimately unsuccessful. They found themselves quashing radical revolutionary groups one day and conservative revolutionaries the next. They tampered with election results when members of the right were elected in 1797 and again in 1798 when members of the left were elected. (They accused elected officials they didn’t support of being counter-revolutionaries.) The people came to realise they were being manipulated and this helped swing affairs from Republicanism toward military dictatorship.
France was still at war with the rest of Europe. And because of the war, leadership was passing into the hands of generals. This brings us to 1799 – a critical year. The military had been rather successful at that point. They won Belgium, called it a “sister Republic,” and began drawing up a new constitution for it. However by this time, a new anti-French coalition had come together; it included England, Prussia, Austria, and the old Ottoman Empire. This helped to turn things around. The French were forced out of Italy and out of their sister republics. Eventually, the Directory was swept out of power, and Napoléon seized control. Napoléon had shown himself to be one of France’s better generals and had proven to have diplomatic skills as well. He had just returned from a less-than-successful campaign in Egypt, but was still being hailed for his earlier successes in Italy; thus, he was able to take advantage of the general chaos.
The debate still goes on between scholars whether the positive or the negative aspects of the French Revolution should be stressed. Conservative scholars such as Edmund Burke, one of the members of the British Parliament, were against the exploitation of America that led to that revolution. Burke wrote up pamphlets about the French and American revolutions, and claimed that that the American Revolution was a good revolution but that France simply moved too fast, smashed tradition, and instability was the result. He thought the French Revolution epitomised everything that could go wrong.
Those of more liberal perspectives, however, looked to the good points.
However – in the short tern, it sure looked like a failure…
And in 1799, Napoléon was the leading hero. Napoléon was not French by birth but came from Corsica. He was short of stature and had a tumultuous marriage to Joséphine. His family was not wealthy, but came from a noble background, which allowed him to get decent training before being sent off to the lines. He was an artillery officer at the age of 16. He was not very active during the first part of the French Revolution, but he was for the principles of the revolution as one of the earlier proclamations was that Corsica should be given a full place in France. Napoléon wished to return to Corsica as the French representative. Because he had French sympathies at a time when Corsica wanted to gain full independence, he and his family were banished from Corsica; they moved permanently to France.
Napoléon then turned his fervour towards fighting for France; he was successful in Italy, but then unsuccessfully fought in Egypt. On his own request, he had been sent to conquer Egypt. In 1798 he addressed his army with the words: "From the tops of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you". But the Egyptian campaign was marked by serious defeats and collapsed in Syria. But a side benefit of Napoléon in Egypt was that French archæologists went to Egypt to study old cultures after one of Napoléon's soldiers stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone, the object that allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs and revolutionised ancient history, causing many scholars to migrate there.
When Napoléon returned to France, a man named Emmanuel Sieyès recruited him to a new cause, which was simply to remove the Directory entirely (they were on the way out anyway). He wanted the French legislature dissolved and a new government established consisting of three councils – one led by Napoléon, one by Sieyès, and one by a person whose name is no longer much remembered. This was seen as the military's attempt to take over the country and, with the help of Napoléon’s brother, the legislative branch dissolve in fear, fleeing the country. Then the Consulate was formed, with Emanuel Sieyès, Napoléon, and Some Unimportant Guy. However, Napoléon's megalomania soon shouldered aside the other two, and he coronated himself First Consul for Life in 1802, then Emperor in 1804. (This paralleled ancient Roman history to an extent.)
Château de Malmaison
The reason that the public went along with Napoléon's megalomania, is that he actually produced results. This was a bit of a first, and his military victories helped bring the nation out of poverty to an extent. He defeated the Austrians by leading his men across the treacherous Alps – something completely unexpected. Even England was ready to sign a peace treaty. Europe had never been so peaceful. Another important step forward was the Concordant of 1801, which stated that Catholicism was the dominant religion in France (a way to make peace with the Pope), but it was not the state religion – instead religious freedom was guaranteed, a first as Protestants had been actively persecuted under all the Louises. The government could still appoint church officials, but would be advised by the church. The Organic Articles issued shortly thereafter basically gave Napoléon full power over the church, but the church more-or-less ignored them - all good politics for Napoléon, as he really had no religious leanings.
Even more popular, Napoléon standardised the civil, commercial and criminal laws under what came to be called the Code Napoléon. This later formed an important legal code for other countries, and is considered one of the major benefits of the era. The court system was simplified and he instated education reform and a central bank. Legal precedents set were to be binding on future rulers. Rights were codified. On the other hand, Napoléon's was self-centred and wanted personal power. His megalomania was clear. He eliminated all dissent, quashing free media (the number of newspapers diminished during his reign), and anyone he deemed to be against him – but quietly, so as to retain his public approval.
Unsurprisingly, it was easy to stress his positive aspects. Was he the “Enlightened Despot” long sought? Evaluating him also causes scholarly debate. It is much easier to stress the positives for those who ruled in antiquity but negatives are more often emphasised when leaders were more recent – especially when a cult of personality is involved. Sometimes Napoléon is compared to Hitler. He had monuments to himself built, including the Arc de Triomphe. (The Arc de Triomphe and its massive piers are decorated with bas reliefs depicting scenes from the revolutionary era. To the right on the side facing the Champs-Elysees is the Marseillaise by Rude - the departure of the volunteers to the front in 1792; to the left is Napoléon's Triumph of 1810 by Cortot. The resistance of 1814 and the Peace of 1815 are on the other side, modestly facing away from the city.) Mostly, Napoléon’s charisma brought him through.
Napoléon wanted an empire in North America. He wanted to retake some of the previous French holdings, in particular those in Canada. He struck a deal with Spain to regain control of the Louisiana Territory. He was thwarted, however – at one point by a revolt in Haiti. He sent men there who mostly ended up dying from tropical diseases. A lack of funds forced Napoléon to forego his dream. Thomas Jefferson was president of the US at the time. Jefferson didn’t like Napoléon much. He wasn’t at all happy that there was soon to be a French presence right on their doorstep. He sent representatives to Paris to offer to buy the city of New Orleans from the French for $4 - 5 million. He felt it was important to control the mouth of the mighty Mississippi. The arrival of the envoy coincided with Napoléon’s worst troubles – which included a new war with England. Napoléon was by this time disillusioned with conquering the US, and offered the envoy the whole of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million. The emissaries didn’t quite know what to do, but didn’t feel they had the time to send a message by ship back to ask Jefferson. They were afraid Napoléon might change his mind. They decided to take a chance. They said yes. This was the great Louisiana Purchase. The US immediately doubled in size, though no one had ever personally viewed the western half of the country. (But soon, Lewis and Clark were sent westward to check out what had just been bought.)
Territorial Growth of the US
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