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Tag Archives: Frederick the Great

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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France and England Clash Over Power

Colonial Wars

If you are fortunate enough to visit eastern Canada, undoubtedly you will wish to include the city of Quebec in your travels. Quebec is perched on the sides and the summit of a steep, rocky promontory overlooking the St. Lawrence River. With narrow, winding streets and French speaking population, the city is a reminder of past centuries when France controlled much of what is now Canada. On September 13, 1759, on the plain outside Quebec, was fought one of history’s decisive battles. For several years English and French forces had been battling in North America, but neither side had been able to defeat the other. Montcalm, the French general and his army felt reasonably secure in their natural fortress at Quebec. Finally, however, James Wolfe, a brilliant young English general, worked out a bold plan for making a direct attack on the French stronghold. Wolfe discovered a narrow path leading up the steep cliff from the riverbank. To fool the French he kept the English fleet farther up the St. Lawrence. Then, on the night of September 12, the English soldiers in small boats drifted noiselessly down the river. In the darkness they climbed stealthily up the rocky path. Having surprised the guards at the top of the cliff, Wolfe and his forces at dawn were ready for battle. The French forces inside the city were short of provisions. Although his men were poorly trained, Montcalm led them out of Quebec to meet the English. The French were no match for Wolfe’s well-disciplined troops. At the height of the battle, as the English swept toward Victory, Wolfe received a fatal wound. A famous historian has given us the following report of Wolfe’s last moments. “They run! They run!” cried one of the soldiers who were carrying the stricken general from …

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The Rise of Prussia 1594 – 1786


AT THE END of the 16th century, Brandenburg and Prussia were unimportant German lands, but the ruler of Brandenburg was clever and farsighted. He was John Sigismund, the head of the Hohenzollern family. In 1594 John Sigismund married the daughter of the idiot duke of Prussia. In 1618, when the duke died, John Sigismund became ruler of Prussia as well as Brandenburg. There must have been many people who laughed at John Sigismund. Brandenburg was worth little, they must have thought, so why did he want an even less valuable Prussia. The nobles were the real power in both Prussia and Brandenburg and ruled almost like kings. They did not pay taxes and they treated their peasants like slaves, whipping and imprisoning them as they wished. The Brandenburgers were backward and poor. Their land was sandy and infertile; they had no great ships or ports, few industries, little trade. Their capital, Berlin, was an unimportant provincial town. Prussia was even poorer and it lay on the frozen, marshy lands north of the Polish capital, Warsaw. Prussia was separated from Brandenburg by 200 miles of hostile territory and Swedes and Poles fought for the entire area. The Poles even claimed John Sigismund as their underling. Like earlier dukes of Prussia, he had to travel to Warsaw and kneel before the king of Poland before the Poles would accept him as duke. In 1618, when the Thirty Years War began, John Sigismund’s weak, divided lands were completely unprotected. John Sigismund died two years later and was succeeded by George William, a timid duke. The war went on, Brandenburg and Prussia were overrun and George William did not know what to do. By the time he died in 1640, it seemed that his lands would be forever torn by war, by religious strife …

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