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The French Revolution and Napoleon

french revolution

The year is 1789; the place, Versailles, France. Several hundred delegates representing the people of France sit sullenly in the palace hall. When an officer of the King orders them to leave the hall and return to their proper meeting place, one delegate rises to his full height and thunders, “Tell your master that we are here by the will of the people, and that only bayonets can drive us forth” A meeting of representatives of the French people? Defiance to the commands of the powerful king of France? In view of what you have read earlier about royal authority in France, all this sounds strange; but it actually happened in one of the opening scenes of the French Revolution. The French Revolution swept the King of France from his throne and abolished the special privileges of the French nobles and clergy. It also spread ideas of liberty and equality over most of Europe and even overseas. Both Americans and Frenchmen sought liberty and both took up arms to win it, but conditions in America and in France were quite different. (1) The English colonists in America were pioneers in a vast new land. They had brought with them the traditions of English liberty and because they were separated by great distances from their home government, they had grown used to handling their own affairs. France, on the other hand, was an old monarchy. It had a population in 1789 of 25 million people who lived in an area that was smaller than the present state of Texas. These people were divided into fixed classes. The great mass of people had few rights and no voice in government. Liberty to them was a new experience. (2) To the east and south of France were powerful nations, in which people suffered …

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The Growth and Expansion of Russia


Andrei was carving a wooden sleigh. So expert was he in the use of a knife that he could make a toy sleigh, driver and all, in two long winter evenings. Another night would be enough for the horse, which wasn’t difficult, but Andrei always had a hard time with the yoke that went over the neck. The yoke was shaped like a big wishbone and Andrei could never understand why Russian horses wore such high and heavy yokes. “Just like us peasants!” thought Andrei, “We too carry heavy burdens and are little more than slaves.” Andrei thought many things that he didn’t say. One didn’t have to he a peasant to learn that lesson in Russia 400 years ago. Look at the terrible death that the local boyar, or noble landlord, had suffered! The ruler of all Russia, Ivan justly nicknamed the Terrible, had been merciless. Even Andrei, who hated all landlords, had pitied the wretched boyar. Andrei lived in a region where streams flowed out to three seas — the Baltic, the Black and the Caspian. It was a level land of great pine forests where trappers caught fur-bearing animals and of clearings where farmers grew barley and flax. It was a land of snow and biting cold more than half of each year. Now it was winter and Andrei was carving toys for sale. When spring came, Andrei would put away his knife and pick up his hoe. Much — too much — of what Andrei earned, summer or winter, would go to the new landlord. Badly off as Andrei was, his sons were to be in a still worse position. To prevent their leaving the farms, the government bound the peasants to stay on the land of their masters. Thus they became serfs, in many ways …

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Death of a Dictator 1946 – 1953

cold war

AS THE SKY darkened over Moscow on the evening of March 5, 1953, thousands of people waited in line before a building called the Hall of Columns. Some of them wept; some carried flowers. Moving slowly and silently toward the entrance, they could see a forty-foot portrait of Premier Josef Stalin, framed in gold, which hung on the side of the building. News of Stalin’s death had been announced late that afternoon and now he lay in state in an immense room whose marble columns were draped in flags of red and black. Four days later, Stalin’s body was carried to the tomb on Red Square where lay the body of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. At twelve noon, when Stalin’s body was placed beside that of Lenin, cannon were fired in every city of Russia. Cars, trucks, busses and trains stopped for five minutes, while people repeated the phrase, “Proshe, oteytz”–“Farewell‚ father” and so the Russians took leave of the man who had ruled them for twenty-nine years. Those twenty-nine years had been among the most eventful and terrible in history, not only for Russia, but for the world. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union had been industrialized. It had fought off an invasion from Nazi Germany and after the war, had established a mighty Communist empire in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. A once backward country had become one of the greatest powers on earth, but the price, in lives and liberty, had been unbelievably high. Millions of people had been killed for resisting Stalin’s program of rapid industrialization, or for disagreeing with him on political issues — or simply because Stalin had suspected them of disloyalty. The older that Stalin grew, the more tyrannical he became. In 1946, when the cold war with the West began, …

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The United Nations and the Nations Disunited 1943 -1949

united nations

So at last, in the Pacific as in Europe, the guns were silent; the nations that had brought so much death and destruction to the world had been defeated, but victory alone was not enough. Governments had to be set up for the defeated nations, the destruction of war had to be repaired, hungry people had to be fed, industry and commerce had to be set in motion. Even more important, a way had to be found to keep war out of the world, to settle disputes between nations by peaceful means rather than by violence. The League of Nations, which had been set up for such a purpose after World War I, had failed, but the attempt had to be made again, for a third world war might well destroy all of civilization. Even before World War II ended, President Roosevelt had been looking ahead to the future and the United States proposed the establishment of a new international organization. Her wartime allies were quick to agree. Meeting in Moscow in October of 1943, the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China declared: “The four powers recognize the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Representatives of the same four nations met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington from August 21 to October 7, 1944, to discuss plans for the new organization. When Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met at Yalta in February of 1945, they agreed that the United Nations Conference on International Organization be held at San Francisco in April. The conference was held as scheduled and it was attended by representatives of fifty nations at …

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A World at War 1939 – 1941

world war 2

Now the people of Europe began to hear a new sound, a sound that would haunt them throughout the years of war — the wail and shriek of air-raid sirens. At night, the lights of Europe went out and the “blackout” made familiar streets strange places of darkness. Street lamps were left unlit and windows were covered with heavy draperies. Any stray gleam of light might help guide enemy bombers to their targets. Hurrying about their wartime duties, the people of Britain and France began to wonder. They had not wanted war and yet war had come. Why? What had happened? It seemed mysterious and impossible to understand, but as they thought about it, certain things became clear. Some of the problems that led to World War II were left-overs from World War I. Germany and Italy had remained “have-not” nations. They needed more territory for raw materials and more markets for their goods. The Germans felt that the Versailles Treaty was humiliating, unjust and the Allies had done nothing to change it. The League of Nations, especially without the participation of the United States, had been weak and had not carried out its promise of real disarmament. The United States had not wanted to get involved in Europe’s problems and had followed a policy of “isolation.” These were some of the causes of the war; there were others as well. France had suffered greatly in World War I and was afraid of being drawn into another conflict. Her generals had hesitated to send troops against Hitler at a time when it was still possible to stop him and then there was the distrust of the Soviet Union and Communism. Many French and British statesmen, such as Chamberlain, had believed that Fascism would protect Europe against Communism. Unlike Churchill, they …

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The 1905 Revolution


SOME DAY there would be no tsars, but there was little sign of that during the last years of the nineteenth century. Alexander III still held Russia in a firm grip. When he died in 1894, his son Nicholas II came to the throne. Nicholas was twenty-six years old. He was a handsome young man and a few months after his father’s death he was married to a German princess. They were in love and it looked as though Nicholas would be a popular ruler. His reign began badly. In 1896, a great crowd gathered on a field in Moscow to celebrate his coronation as tsar. It was the custom to hand out little presents, such as handkerchiefs and cups, at these celebrations. Afraid that there might not be enough for everyone, the crowd surged forward. When mounted police tried to hold back the crowd, men, women and children were pushed into ditches and two thousand persons were killed. To make it even worse, that same night the tsar and the tsarina, his wife, danced at a ball held at the French embassy. People grumbled that the tsarina was a foreigner who had no feeling for Russians and the tsar was not much better. Nor did the people like the tsar’s reply to a message of congratulation from the officials of a town near Moscow. The officials said that they hoped “the rights of individuals and public institutions will be firmly safeguarded.” Nicholas answered that he would support the principle of absolute rule just as firmly “as it was preserved by my unforgettable great father.” It was plain that under Nicholas the Russians could expect no greater freedom than they had had under Alexander III. There would be no civil liberties, no better treatment of the peasants and of minority …

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Emperor of the French 1804 -1815


On December 2, 1804, in a ceremony of great pomp and splendour at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. Pope Pius VII was there. He had come from Rome to offer his blessing and to place the crown on the head of the new emperor but Napoleon did not do what was expected of him. Instead of kneeling, he took the crown from the Pope’s hands and put it on himself. He also placed a crown on the head of his wife, Josephine. Only twelve years had passed since the French had risen in revolt against their king. Now, by popular vote, they had placed Napoleon on the throne and approved a new constitution giving him almost unlimited power. People in other lands wondered if the French were turning their back on the revolution, but the French did not think so. They looked upon Napoleon as the man who had made laws and treaties to protect most of the benefits which they had won during the revolution. Yet the French had changed. They no longer spoke of liberty. They were willing to give up some of their freedom in order to enjoy other things that now seemed just as important and men who had once been great champions of liberty could do little about it. Among them was Lafayette, who had returned to France after several years in Austrian prisons. Not wishing to support a government under which freedom did not exist, he refused to accept any public office and lived the life of a gentleman farmer. Most Frenchmen simply felt that a practical form of government was more important than liberty. They had discovered some frightening things about liberty during the Revolution — too much of it could …

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Russia Under the Tsars 1462-1796


IN THE LAST PART of the fifteenth century, the monks and courtiers of Moscow began to say that Moscow was destined to become the “Third Rome.” The first Rome, they said had been great as the centre of Christianity; but when the Romans had recognized the pope, Rome had been punished by destruction. The second Rome had been Constantinople, the centre of the Orthodox Church; but Constantinople, too, had briefly recognized the pope, and it, too, had fallen. Now Moscow, where the Orthodox faith still remained pure, was to become the Third Rome — the great centre of the Christian world. It would remain so, “for two Romes have fallen, the third stands and a fourth will not be.” Once Moscow had been small and unimportant, but the dukes of Moscow had been bold and ambitious, seizing every opportunity to make Moscow stronger. Sometimes they acted more like thieves than princes. Grand Duke Daniel once invited another prince to dinner, pretending friendship. When the guest arrived, Daniel threw him into prison and seized his lands. Daniel’s son, Ivan, who was called Ivan Moneybags, made Moscow the home of the Metropolitan, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ivan Moneybags also became the tax collector for the Tatar overlords and he kept a good part of the taxes, for himself. Other dukes stole or bought or conquered new lands to make Moscow greater. THE BOYARS So, when Ivan III became Grand Duke in 1462, he inherited one of the most powerful kingdoms of Russia. Ivan acted very much as though he believed the story of the Third Rome. He married Sophia, niece of the last Byzantine emperor. He put the two-headed eagle of Rome on his own state seal. He sometimes even called himself tsar, which was the Russian way of …

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Christian Knights and Mongol Horsemen A. D. 099-1404

genghis khan

THROUGHOUT THE eleventh century, the divided Arab Empire became weaker in all its parts. Meanwhile, the Christian lands to the north became stronger. Adventures from northern France snatched Sicily and Southern Italy from the Arabs. The pope called on the rulers of Europe for a united Christian attack on the Moslems. By the end of the century, European knights in chain-mail armour were streaming into Syria by land and sea, determined to recapture the holy places of their religion. This campaign was the first of many. The Crusades dragged on for two centuries, with long periods of peace coming between bouts of fighting. Christian kings and noblemen carved small states out of Moslem territory, only to lose them. In 1099, Frankish troops seized Jerusalem, the Christians’ holy city, and made it the capital of a kingdom. In 1187 Saladin reconquered the country for Islam. After the Moslems forced the last Crusaders to leave Syria in 1291, only the island of Cyprus remained under the Christian flag. So, in the end, although the Crusades did not change the balance of power between Christianity and Islam, they left behind bitter memories which were to poison Moslem-Christian relations for centuries. Not all of the results were bad, however. The Crusaders, who came to the Near East convinced of their own superiority, found that their despised enemies knew more than they did about a great many things. They took the knowledge they had gained home to Europe. The brave deeds of the warriors on both sides gave rise to thousands of poems, songs and tales which enriched the literatures of Europe and Islam. The Christian heroes included two kings — Richard the Lion Hearted of England and Louis IX of France, who was made a saint. Among the Moslem heroes, the most famous were …

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