Home / Peoples in Western Europe and America Strive for Freedom and National Unity

Peoples in Western Europe and America Strive for Freedom and National Unity

Peoples in Western Europe and America Strive for Freedom and National Unity

Western Europe. In the earlier category we described the struggles of rival European rulers and states for power and colonies. At the same time, the people in many countries of western Europe were striving for greater opportunities and more freedom. The yearning for freedom in western Europe, which is the theme of this category, brought about an age of revolutions. It also led to the spread of nationalism, that is, the desire of people who have the same background to be united and to govern themselves.

Liberty made its earliest gains in England, where two revolutions in the 1600’s clearly established Parliament as supreme over kings. By the late 1600’s also, the Dutch and the Swiss enjoyed more freedom than other peoples on the Continent.

Also described are the struggles of peoples in America to control their affairs. When Britain sought to impose stricter regulations, the thirteen British colonies fought for and won independence. Wars which swept Europe in the early 1800’s gave Latin American colonies a chance to break the ties which bound them to their mother countries. In Canada greater freedom was gained without going to war.

History relates how Frenchmen abolished special privileges and overthrew their monarchy. Although the desire for orderly government caused the French to accept another absolute ruler, Napoleon, he maintained and extended many reforms of the French Revolution. Through Napoleon’s conquests, French ideas of liberty spread to other European countries.

After the overthrow of Napoleon, European kings and statesmen tried to curb nationalism and people’s rights. These attempts to “turn back the clock” were met by widespread revolutionary outbreaks, especially in 1830 and 1848. History tells how both Italy and Germany, divided for centuries, became unified nations.

Italy and Germany Become Unified nations


On May 11, 1860 an almost incredible military campaign began with the landing of Guiseppe Garibaldi on the western tip of Sicily. Garibaldi was a handsome, dashing, reckless warrior patriot. With him were a thousand devoted followers, clad in red shirts. Maybe red shirts were easier to shoot at than green or gray, but for every bullet, they attracted a recruit from the ranks of the enemy. The island of Sicily was one of the two parts of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The other “Sicily” was the southern third of the peninsula of Italy. The capital of the Kingdom was the beautiful but overcrowded city of Naples, where a king of the Bourbon family headed one of the worst governments in Europe. Garibaldi hated the King of the Two Sicilies for two reasons: (1) The King’s misrule was an insult to all true Italians and (2) even a good separate government at Naples would have stood in the way of bringing Italy together into a single, unified free country. Garibaldi felt that war had to be made against the King. No country already in existence would send troops on such a mission, but that didn’t bother Garibaldi. He resolved to wage his own war as a patriotic citizen of a country not yet born. He set out from Genoa, sailed westward for a few miles and then made for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The story of what followed is a story of how freedom overcomes tyranny if it has half a chance to do so. The King’s army had no heart for fighting. It melted away and as it shrank, Garibaldi’s army grew. Within a week after landing in Sicily, Garibaldi had won his first battle against the King. Two months later, Garibaldi controlled all of …

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Nationalism and Democracy Clash with the Forces of Reaction


The Austrian city of Vienna in 1814 would have dazzled even a Hollywood director. Emperors and empresses, kings and queens, dukes and duchesses — members of ruling families who hoped to recover thrones or to increase their lands — were there. So were leading statesmen from practically every country in Europe. For the so-called Congress of Vienna was meeting to make peace, now that Napoleon had finally been defeated. The Congress was going to set the world right again. The old city was overcrowded. Hotel rates soared and homeowners rented their houses at unheard of prices. Laundresses grew wealthy and tailors prospered, silks and gold lace were everywhere. The highborn visitors found little time for sleep because of the never ending round of festivities. There were dinners and parties, receptions and dances, operas, ballets and concerts led by the great composer and orchestra leader Beethoven. So the rulers and aristocrats wined and danced, bowed and flirted. Vienna merry go round might have been a good term for the great international peace conference in 1814. You should not get the idea that there were no serious minded people present at the Congress of Vienna. There were and they knew what they wanted. While most of the visitors were caught up in the social whirl, these statesmen took time to confer on serious matters. Their purpose was to stamp out the ideas of liberty and equality and of self government proclaimed during the French Revolution and spread by Napoleon’s armies. Could the members of the Congress of Vienna smother these ideas? One might as well ask whether they could stop winds from blowing or check the flow of rivers fed by countless small streams. Here we read how old and new ideas clashed and will answer these questions: 1. How did the …

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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 Peoples of America Win Control over their Own Affairs


Even though you are familiar with the story of the American Revolution, perhaps you do not realize that only nine short days at Christmas time in 1776 changed the course of the English colonies’ fight for freedom. Within that short space of time, General Washington’s ragged, dwindling army captured the hired German troops at Trenton, New Jersey and routed a British force at nearby Princeton. To win such surprising victories and to keep the American Revolution from collapsing took the devoted leadership and military skill of General George Washington. It took patriot soldiers whose term of service had run out but who fought on, though they were poorly clothed, halfstarved and ill. In short, the struggle for independence continued because there were men who saw beyond the cold, hunger, danger and weariness of war. Wherever freedom is won, there are able leaders, men of courage and devotion. Turn, for example, to South America in the year 1819, In a mountain hut General Simon Bolivar, one of the great leaders in the struggle of the Spanish-American colonies for independence, huddled with his staff officers over a candlelit map. Ahead of Bolivar rose the towering cloud-covered summits of the Andes. Somewhere in the valleys beyond were the Spanish troops that Bolivar had to defeat. Quickly he decided to make use of a high, windy, fiercely cold mountain pass. No Spaniard would look for a force of 2100 men from that direction! Up, up climbed Bolivar’s forces. Trees grew stunted and bent. Wind buffeted and snow blinded the men and horses. Some dropped from exhaustion; others slipped and vanished into the fog-filled canyons. What was left of Bolivar’s army crept down the other side. Not a single cavalry horse had survived and abandoned cannon, like snow-covered mileposts, marked Bolivar’s route. The exhausted forces were …

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Basic Ideas of Freedom take Root in Early Modern Times

early modern times

Freedom! Liberty! Here are words which most Americans have heard all their lives. Freedom is the subject of the Declaration of Independence and of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution. Our patriotic songs refer to America as “sweet land of liberty” and “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Just what do we mean by freedom or liberty? We mean several things, for there is more than one kind of freedom. First, there is personal freedom — the right of the individual to go where he wants, to choose his occupation, to say and write what he thinks, to worship as he pleases. Secondly, there is political freedom — the right to have a share in the government. Political freedom is best achieved through democracy or rule of the people. Finally, there is national freedom or independence — the freedom of an entire people or nation from control by another state. Any people that are truly free possess all three kinds of freedom — personal, political and national. To be sure, there are many things which “free” people are not “free” to do. Just because you and I possess personal liberty does not give us the right to break the laws of our community or nation. To do so would be harmful for all of us. Again, except in a small community where everybody can vote on every proposal, it is impossible for each individual citizen to take a direct part in deciding public questions. So when we speak of democracy today, we usually mean rule through representatives elected by a majority of the people. Nevertheless, liberty is one of the highest goals of mankind. The pages of history are filled with the stirring tales of individuals or whole peoples who have sacrificed their fortunes …

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