Tag Archives: France

The Revolutionary Age – the Winter Edition of History NOW

The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar, 13 Septembe...

The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar, 13 September 1782″. By John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), c. 1783 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Revolution is truly like a pox, spreading from person to person.

This particularly human sickness is the subject of this winter’s issue of History NOW from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  Ten essays from a collection of eminent historians detail how the revolutionary fervor of the Americas would spread globally, to France, to Haiti, to Cuba and beyond.

Several of the essays caught my eye.  First was Patrick Spero’s interesting piece on the truly global nature of the American war of independence.  Unbeknownst to many on this side of the pond, the longest and largest battle of the War of Independence did not occur on American soil and involved no US lives: the Spanish seige of British-held Gibraltar from 1779 to 1783.  The British victory was celebrated in a painting by John Singleton Copley, demonstrating the US struggle’s overall limited place in what became a global war.

Susan Dunn’s comparison of the French and American Revolutions is also of note.   The analysis is hardly new–that the moderating nature of the American Revolution made for a long-lasting, yet flawed system, while the increasingly radical French Revolution would self-destruct.  What is new is the view of the American Revolution from the French point of view, particularly how the French perspective changes from that of doting admirers to critical ascendant revolutionaries bent on correcting and improving on the American model.

I would be remiss if I forgot the contributions of my old friend, UCLA professor emeritus Gary Nash.  In an article recovered from Gilder Lehrman’s arch, Nash examines the social and intellectual roots of the Revolution, particularly the various movements advocating for independence and social change.  The ideals of revolution manifested itself through various avenues, as Americans of all stripes struggled to create a new society–a society that would be on the backburner as forces of reaction and stability placed the war and the ensuing Constitution as a priority over social change.

As with any Gilder Lehrman product, History NOW is laden with primary sources for educators to utilize the ideas of the authors.  This issue contains the Stamp Act, Jefferson’s letters on the Haitian and French Revolutions, the Monroe Doctrine, even the 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence.

The Neighborhood is usually very enthusiastic of Gilder Lehrman resources, and History NOW is no exception.  Take your time and really sift through the treasure trove of analysis and insight…it’s among the best issues yet.

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This Day in History 12/13: Woodrow Wilson arrives in Paris for the 1919 Peace Conference

On this day, December 13, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris to participate in the final peace talks that will end the War to End All Wars, or World War I.

Unlike his counterparts in Britain and France–who wanted sweet revenge over 4 years of trench warfare–Wilson wanted to re-organize the international order to develop a new society based on peace, cooperation and democracy.  His “Fourteen Points” outlined Wilson’s philosophy of international rights, individual self-determination and a worldwide peacekeeping body that would resolve international conflicts without bloodshed.

The ultimate treaty fell well short of Wilson’s wishes, and would ultimately lead to an even worse conflict two decades later.

Attached is an old documentary about the Paris Peace Conference.  It’s pretty straightforward and it gives a good synopsis of the sides, arguments and politics of postwar Europe.

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This Day in History 6/18: The War of 1812

USS_Constitution_vs_GuerriereIt just figures that the first day of the US Open at Bethpage Black gets rained out.  It shares an anniversary with another unhappy accident.

Today is the 197th anniversary of the War of 1812, one of the strangest wars in American history.  It’s been called many other names, such as the “Second War of Independence” or “Mr. Madison’s War”, after the sitting President James Madison.  My favorite name for it, however, is the “War of Faulty Communication,” since a simple advance in technology would have prevented not only the war even being declared, but would also have stopped its largest battle from even starting.

The young United States was fighting largely for respect.  Both Napoleonic France and Great Britain, in constant warfare since 1793, wanted to use the U.S. as leverage in trade and military gamesmanship.   American trade suffered from British harrassment–especially the “impressment” of sailors–and French meddling.  Furthermore, in defiance of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the British remained in forts on America’s western frontier, providing arms and supplies for local Native groups to raid on encroaching American settlements.

Yet when Congress passed the war resolution on June 18, 1812, many of the major abuses by the British were being resolved.  A month before, the prime minister died, and Lord Liverpool formed a new government, one which sought a more accomodating stance with the United States.  On June 16, just two days before the declaration of war, Parliament voted to rescind many of the aggressive maritime measures that caused American anger in the first place.  If there was even a telegraph line, let alone a phone or the Internet, this war would’ve never happened.

If you asked the generals on both sides, it shouldn’t have happened–not in their military conditions in 1812.  Britain was in no shape to get into another conflict.  It was busy in the Peninsular War in Spain against Napoleon, as well as leading the alliance against the French via the mainland, aiding their Continental allies as the French armies got stuck in Russia.  Britain controlled the seas with its huge navy, but it was needed to blockade Europe, and few ships could be spared.

The United States was in worse shape.  The standing army was only about 7,000, and recruits were hard to come by outside of the South and West.  The war was extremely unpopular in New England, where they threatened secession if their commerce was further curtailed.  The navy was virtually nonexistent: a whopping 14 ships, with 6 frigates and no heavy-hitting ships of the line, compared to Britain’s 600 vessel monster.

The war was concentrated on the high seas, the Great Lakes, the coastal towns of the Chesapeake Bay, the western frontier and the Gulf coast.  Most battles were small affairs, especially in the west where the British had to use Canadian militia and native allies to buttress their small ranks.  This changed in 1814, when the waning of the Napoleonic Wars allowed Great Britain to allocate more resources to the American front.  This resulted in the burning of Washington, DC and the siege of Baltimore–the very same siege that gave birth to our national anthem.

By December of 1814, the war was tiring on both sides.  Britain wanted to maintain a strong hand in shaping post-Napoleonic Europe, and the war in the Americas weakened its position among its allies Austria and Russia.  The United States, meanwhile, wanted to end a costly conflict that had few clear victories and some disastrous defeats.  Both sides signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 28, 1814, which ended the war.

Or did it?

Somehow, Andrew Jackson did not get the message.  Maybe his DSL connection was down, or the network admin was doing maintenance.  Instead, he decides to give the British the beating of a lifetime.  On January 8, 1815, Jackson’s Americans soundly defeat an invading British force at New Orleans.  It made Jackson a national hero, but it never should’ve happened.  It wasn’t until the next month, when the British invaded Mobile, Alabama, that news reached the South of the peace treaty. 

So what did the War of 1812 teach us, kids? 

(1) Always check your messages.  It’ll avoid unfortunate misunderstandings and prevent escalation of conflict.  Jackson needed a Blackberry.  Lord Liverpool should’ve Twittered his actions.

(2) Never get caught with your pants down.  You’ll end up running like the US Army at the shameful Battle of Bladensburg in 1814.  It was widely considered the worst defeat in US military history.

(3) Always get the “last licks.” The schoolyard prepares us for the battlefields of life.  Jackson ended up with the last punch in 1815.  In 1828, he’d be elected President.

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