Eric J. Hobsbawm (1917-2012)
The Age of Revolution. Europe 1789–1848
London. Folio Society. 2005. xviii, 412 pages.
In a time of innovation, all that is not new is pernicious. The military art of the monarchy no longer suits us, for we are different men and have different enemies. The power and conquests of peoples, the splendour of their politics and warfare, have always depended on a single principle, a single powerful institution…. Our nation has already a national character of its own. Its military system must be different from its enemies'. Very well then: if the French nation is terrible because of our ardour and skill, and if our enemies are clumsy, cold and slow, then our military system must be impetuous.
Saint-Just, Rapport présenté à la Convention Nationale au nom du Comité de Salut Public, 19 du premier mois de l' an II (October 10, 1793)
It is not true that war is divinely ordained; it is not true that the earth thirsts for blood. God himself curses war and so do the men who wage it, and who hold it in secret horror.
Alfred de Vigny, Servitude et grandeur militaires.
From 1792 until 1815 there was almost uninterrupted war in Europe, combined or coincident with occasional war outside: in the West Indies, the Levant and India in the 1790s and early 1800s, in occasional naval operations abroad thereafter, in the USA in 1812–14. The consequences of victory or defeat in these wars were considerable, for they transformed the map of the world. We must therefore consider them first. But we shall also have to consider a less tangible problem. What were the consequences of the actual process of warfare, the military mobilization and operations, the political and economic measures consequent upon them?
Two very different kinds of belligerents confronted one another during those twenty-odd years: powers and systems. France as a state, with its interests and aspirations confronted (or was in alliance with) other states of the same kind, but on the other hand France as the Revolution appealed to the peoples of the world to overthrow tyranny and embrace liberty, and the forces of conservatism and reaction opposed her. No doubt after the first apocalyptic years of revolutionary war the difference between these two strands of conflict diminished. By the end of Napoleon's reign the element of imperial conquest and exploitation prevailed over the element of liberation, whenever French troops defeated, occupied or annexed some country, and international warfare was therefore much less mixed with international (and in each country domestic) civil war. Conversely, the anti-revolutionary powers were resigned to the irreversibility of much of the revolution's achievement in France, and consequently ready to negotiate (within certain reservations) peace-terms as between normally functioning powers rather than as between light and darkness. They were even, within a few weeks of Napoleon's first defeat, prepared to readmit France as an equal player into the traditional game of alliance, counter-alliance, bluff, threat and war in which diplomacy regulated the relationships between the major states. Nevertheless, the dual nature of the wars as a conflict, both between states and between social systems, remained.
Socially speaking, the belligerents were very unevenly divided. Apart from France itself, there was only one state of importance whose revolutionary origins and sympathy with the Declarations of the Rights of Man might give it an ideological inclination to the French side: the United States of America. In fact, the USA did lean to the French side, and on at least one occasion (1812–14) fought a war, if not in alliance with the French, then at least against a common enemy, the British. However, the USA remained neutral for the most part and its friction with the British requires no ideological explanation. For the rest the ideological allies of France were parties and currents of opinion within other states rather than state powers in their own right.
In a very broad sense virtually every person of education, talent and enlightenment sympathized with the Revolution, at all events until the Jacobin dictatorship, and often for very much longer. (It was not until Napoleon had made himself emperor that Beethoven revoked the dedication of the Eroica Symphony to him.) The list of European talent and genius which supported the Revolution initially can only be compared with the similar and almost universal sympathy for the Spanish Republic in the 1930s. In Britain it included the poets—Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge, Robert Burns, Southey—scientists, the chemist Joseph Priestley and several members of the distinguished Birmingham Lunar Society,i technologists and industrialists like Wilkinson the ironmaster and Thomas Telford the engineer, and Whig or Dissenting intellectuals in general. In Germany it included the philosophers Kant, Herder, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, the poets Schiller, Hoelderlin, Wieland and the aged Klopstock and the musician Beethoven, in Switzerland the educationalist Pestalozzi, the psychologist Lavater and the painter Fuessli (Fuseli), in Italy virtually all persons of anticlerical opinions. However, though the Revolution was charmed by such intellectual support, and honoured eminent foreign sympathizers and those whom it believed to stand for its principles by granting them honorary French citizenship,ii neither a Beethoven nor a Robert Burns were of much political or military importance in themselves.
Serious political philo-Jacobinism or pro-French sentiment existed in the main in certain areas adjoining France, where social conditions were comparable or cultural contacts permanent (the Low Countries, the Rhineland, Switzerland and Savoy), in Italy, and for somewhat different reasons in Ireland and Poland. In Britain ‘Jacobinism' would undoubtedly have been a phenomenon of greater political importance, even after The Terror, if it had not clashed with the traditional anti-French bias of popular English nationalism, compounded equally of John Bull's beef-fed contempt for the starveling continentals (all French in the popular cartoons of the period are as thin as matchsticks) and of hostility to what was, after all, England's ‘hereditary enemy', though also Scotland's hereditary ally.iii British Jacobinism was unique in being primarily an artisan or working-class phenomenon, at least after the first general enthusiasm had passed. The Corresponding Societies can claim to be the first independent political organizations of the labouring class. But it found a voice of unique force in Tom Paine's ‘Rights of Man' (which may have sold a million copies), and some political backing from Whig interests, themselves immune to persecution by reason of their wealth and social position, who were prepared to defend the traditions of British civil liberty and the desirability of a negotiated peace with France. Nevertheless, the real weakness of British Jacobinism is indicated by the fact that the very fleet at Spithead, which mutinied at a crucial stage of the war (1797), clamoured to be allowed to sail against the French once their economic demands had been met.
In the Iberian peninsula, in the Habsburg dominions, Central and Eastern Germany, Scandinavia, the Balkans and Russia, philo-Jacobinism was a negligible force. It attracted some ardent young men, some illuminist intellectuals and a few others who, like Ignatius Martinovics in Hungary or Rhigas in Greece, occupy the honoured places of precursors in the history of their countries' struggle for national or social liberation. But the absence of any mass support for their views among the middle and upper classes, let alone their isolation from the bigoted illiterate peasantry, made Jacobinism easy to suppress even when, as in Austria, it ventured on a conspiracy. A generation would have to pass before the strong and militant Spanish liberal tradition was to emerge from the few tiny student conspiracies or Jacobin emissaries of 1792–5.
The truth was that for the most part Jacobinism abroad made its direct ideological appeal to the educated and middle classes and that its political force therefore depended on their effectiveness or willingness to use it. Thus in Poland the French Revolution made a profound impression. France had long been the chief foreign power in whom Poles hoped to find backing against the joint greed of the Prussians, Russians and Austrians, who had already annexed vast areas of the country and were soon to divide it among themselves entirely. France also provided a model of the kind of profound internal reform which, as all thinking Poles agreed, could alone enable their country to resist its butchers. Hence it is hardly surprising that the Reform constitution of 1791 was consciously and profoundly influenced by the French Revolution; it was the first of the modern constitutions to show this influence.iv But in Poland the reforming nobility and gentry had a free hand. In Hungary, where the endemic conflict between Vienna and the local autonomists provided an analogous incentive for country gentlemen to interest themselves in theories of resistance (the county of Gömör demanded the abolition of censorship as being contrary to Rousseau's Social Contract), they had not. Consequently ‘Jacobinism' was both much weaker and much less effective. Again in Ireland, national and agrarian discontent gave ‘Jacobinism' a political force far in excess of the actual support for the free-thinking, masonic ideology of the leaders of the ‘United Irishmen'. Church services were held in that most catholic country for the victory of the godless French, and Irishmen were prepared to welcome the invasion of their country by French forces, not because they sympathized with Robespierre but because they hated the English and looked for allies against them. In Spain, on the other hand, where both Catholicism and poverty were equally prominent, Jacobinism failed to gain a foothold for the opposite reason: no foreigners oppressed the Spaniards, and the only ones likely to do so were the French.
Neither Poland nor Ireland were typical examples of philo-Jacobinism, for the actual programme of the Revolution made little appeal there. It did in countries of similar social and political problems to those of France. These fall into two groups: states in which native ‘Jacobinism' stood a reasonable chance of bidding for political power, and those in which only French conquest could push them forward. The Low Countries, parts of Switzerland, and possibly one or two Italian states belong to the first group, most of West Germany and Italy to the second. Belgium (the Austrian Netherlands) was already in revolt in 1789: it is often forgotten that Camille Desmoulins called his journal ‘Les Révolutions de France et de Brabant'. The pro-French element of the revolutionaries (the democratic Vonckists) was no doubt weaker than the conservative Statists, but strong enough to produce genuine revolutionary support for the French conquest of their country, which they favoured. In the United Provinces the ‘patriots', seeking an alliance with France, were powerful enough to consider a revolution, though doubtful whether it could succeed without external aid. They represented the lesser middle class, and others rallied against the dominant oligarchies of big merchant patricians. In Switzerland the left wing element in certain protestant cantons had always been strong, and the attraction of France had always been powerful. Here too French conquest supplemented rather than created the local revolutionary forces.
In West Germany and Italy this was not so. French invasion was welcomed by the German Jacobins, notably in Mainz and the south-west, but nobody would claim that they were within measurable distance of even causing their governments much trouble on their own.v In Italy the prevalence of illuminism and Masonry made the Revolution immensely popular among the educated, but local Jacobinism was probably powerful only in the kingdom of Naples, where it captured virtually all the enlightened (i.e. anticlerical) middle class and a part of the gentry, and was well organized in the secret lodges and societies which flourish so well in the South Italian atmosphere. But even there it suffered from its total failure to make contact with the social-revolutionary masses. A Neapolitan republic was easily proclaimed as news of the French advance came, but equally easily overthrown by a social revolution of the right, under the banner of Pope and King; for the peasants and the Neapolitan lazzaroni, with some justification, defined a Jacobin as ‘a man with a coach'.
Broadly speaking, therefore, the military value of foreign philo-Jacobinism was chiefly that of an auxiliary to French conquest, and a source of politically reliable administrators of conquered territories. And indeed, the tendency was for the areas with local Jacobin strength to be turned into satellite republics and thereafter, where convenient, to be annexed to France. Belgium was annexed in 1795; the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic in the same year and eventually a family kingdom of the Bonapartes. The left bank of the Rhine was annexed, and under Napoleon satellite states (like the Grand Duchy of Berg—the present Ruhr area—and the kingdom of Westphalia) and direct annexation extended further across North-west Germany. Switzerland became the Helvetic Republic in 1798 and was eventually annexed. In Italy a string of republics were set up—the Cisalpine (1797), the Ligurian (1797), the Roman (1798), the Partenopean (1798) which eventually became partly French territory, but predominantly satellite states (the kingdom of Italy, the kingdom of Naples).
Foreign Jacobinism had some military importance, and foreign Jacobins within France played a significant part in the formation of Republican strategy, as notably the Saliceti group, which is incidentally more than a little responsible for the rise of the Italian Napoleon Bonaparte within the French army, and his subsequent fortunes in Italy. But few would claim that it or they were decisive. One foreign pro-French movement alone might have been decisive, had it been effectively exploited: the Irish. A combination of Irish revolution and French invasion, particularly in 1797–8 when Britain was temporarily the only belligerent left in the field against France, might well have forced Britain to make peace. But the technical problems of invasion across so wide a stretch of sea were difficult, the French efforts to do so hesitant and ill-conceived, and the Irish rising of 1798, though enjoying massive popular support, poorly organized and easily suppressed. To speculate about the theoretical possibilities of Franco-Irish operations is therefore idle.
But if the French enjoyed the support of revolutionary forces abroad, so did the anti-French. For the spontaneous movements of popular resistance against French conquest cannot be denied their social-revolutionary component, even when the peasants who waged them expressed it in terms of militant church-and-king conservatism. It is significant that the military tactic which in our century has become most completely identified with revolutionary warfare, the guerilla or partisan, was between 1792 and 1815 the almost exclusive preserve of the anti-French side. In France itself the Vendée and the chouans of Brittany carried on royalist guerilla war from 1793, with interruptions, until 1802. Abroad, the bandits of Southern Italy in 1798–9 probably pioneered anti-French popular guerilla action. The Tyrolese under the publican Andreas Hofer in 1809, but above all the Spaniards from 1808, and to some extent the Russians in 1812–13, practised it with considerable success. Paradoxically, the military importance of this revolutionary tactic for the anti-French was almost certainly greater than the military importance of foreign Jacobinism was for the French. No area beyond the borders of France itself maintained a pro-Jacobin government for a moment after the defeat or withdrawal of French troops; but Tyrol, Spain, and to some extent Southern Italy, presented a more serious military problem to the French after the defeat of their formal armies and rulers than before. The reason is obvious: these were peasant movements. Where anti-French nationalism was not based on the local peasantry, its military importance was negligible. Retrospective patriotism has created a German ‘war of liberation' in 1813–14, but it can safely be said that, insofar as this is supposed to have been based on popular resistance to the French, it is a pious fiction 1. In Spain the people held the French in check when the armies had failed; in Germany orthodox armies defeated them in a wholly orthodox manner.
Socially speaking, then, it is not too much of a distortion to speak of the war as one of France and its border territories against the rest. In terms of old-fashioned power relations, the line-up was more complex. The fundamental conflict here was that between France and Britain, which had dominated European international relations for the best part of a century. From the British point of view this was almost wholly economic. They wished to eliminate their chief competitor on the way to achieving total predominance of their trade in the European markets, the total control of the colonial and overseas markets, which in turn implied the control of the high seas. In fact, they achieved something not much less than this as the result of the wars. In Europe this objective implied no territorial ambitions, except for the control of certain points of maritime importance, or the assurance that these would not fall into the hands of states strong enough to be dangerous. For the rest of Britain was content with any continental settlement in which any potential rival was held in check by other states. Abroad it implied the wholesale destruction of other people's colonial empires and considerable annexations to the British.
This policy was in itself sufficient to provide the French with some potential allies, for all maritime, trading and colonial states regarded it with misgivings or hostility. In fact their normal posture was one of neutrality, for the benefits of trading freely in wartime are considerable; but the British tendency to treat neutral shipping (quite realistically) as a force helping the French rather than themselves, drove them into conflict from time to time, until the French blockade policy after 1806 pushed them in the opposite direction. Most maritime powers were too weak, or, being in Europe, too cut off, to cause the British much trouble; but the Anglo-American war of 1812–14 was the outcome of such a conflict.
The French hostility to Britain was somewhat more complex, but the element in it which, like the British, demanded a total victory was greatly strengthened by the Revolution, which brought to power a French bourgeoisie whose appetites were, in their way, as limitless as those of the British. At the very least victory over the British required the destruction of British commerce, on which Britain was correctly believed to be dependent; and a safeguard against future British recovery, its permanent destruction. (The parallel between the Franco-British and the Rome-Carthage conflict was much in the minds of the French, whose political imagery was largely classical.) In a more ambitious mood, the French bourgeoisie could hope to offset the evident economic superiority of the British only by its own political and military resources: e.g. by creating for itself a vast captive market from which its rivals were excluded. Both these considerations lent the Anglo-French conflict a persistence and stubbornness unlike any other. Neither side was really—a rare thing in those days, though a common one today—prepared to settle for less than total victory. The one brief spell of peace between the two (1802–3) was brought to an end by the reluctance of both to maintain it. This was all the more remarkable, since the purely military situation imposed a stalemate: it was clear from the later 1790s that the British could not effectively get at the continent and the French could not effectively break out of it.
The other anti-French powers were engaged in a less murderous kind of struggle. They all hoped to overthrow the French Revolution, though not at the expense of their own political ambitions, but after 1792–5 this was clearly no longer practicable. Austria, whose family links with the Bourbons were reinforced by the direct French threat to her possessions and areas of influence in Italy, and her leading position in Germany, was the most consistently anti-French, and took part in every major coalition against France. Russia was intermittently anti-French, entering the war only in 1795–1800, 1805–7 and 1812. Prussia was torn between a sympathy for the counter-revolutionary side, a mistrust of Austria, and her own ambitions in Poland and Germany, which benefited from the French initiative. She therefore entered the war occasionally and in a semi-independent fashion: in 1792–5, 1806–7 (when she was pulverized) and 1813. The policy of the remainder of the states which from time to time entered anti-French coalitions, shows comparable fluctuations. They were against the Revolution but, politics being politics, they had other fish to fry also, and nothing in their state interests imposed a permanent unwavering hostility to France, especially to a victorious France which determined the periodic redistributions of European territory.
These permanent diplomatic ambitions and interests of the European states also supplied the French with a number of potential allies: for in every permanent system of states in rivalry and tension with one another, the enmity of A implies the sympathy of anti-A. The most reliable of these were those lesser German princes whose interest it had long been—normally in alliance with France —to weaken the power of the Emperor (i.e. Austria) over the principalities, or who suffered from the growth of Prussian power. The South-western German states—Baden, Wurtemberg, Bavaria, who became the nucleus of the Napoleonic Confederation of the Rhine (1806)—and Prussia's old rival and victim, Saxony, were the most important of these. Saxony, indeed, was the last and most loyal ally of Napoleon, a fact also partly explicable by her economic interests, for as a highly developed manufacturing centre she benefited from the Napoleonic ‘continental system'.
Still, even allowing for the divisions on the anti-French side and the potential of allies on which the French might draw, on paper the anti-French coalitions were invariably much stronger than the French, at any rate initially. Yet the military history of the wars is one of almost unbroken and breathtaking French victory. After the initial combination of foreign attack and domestic counter-revolution had been beaten off (1793–4) there was only one short period, before the end, when the French armies were seriously on the defensive: in 1799 when the second coalition mobilized the formidable Russian army under Suvorov for its first operations in Western Europe. For all practical purposes the list of campaigns and land battles between 1794 and 1812 is one of virtually uninterrupted French triumph. The reason lies in the Revolution in France. Its political radiation abroad was not, as we have seen, decisive. At most we might claim that it prevented the population of the reactionary states from resisting the French, who brought them liberty; but in fact the military strategy and tactics of orthodox eighteenth-century states neither expected nor welcomed civilian participation in warfare: Frederick the Great had firmly told his loyal Berliners, who offered to resist the Russians, to leave war to the professionals to whom it belonged. But it transformed the warfare of the French and made them immeasurably superior to the armies of the old régime. Technically the old armies were better trained and disciplined, and where these qualities were decisive, as in naval warfare, the French were markedly inferior. They were good privateers and hit-and-run raiders, but could not compensate for the lack of sufficient trained seamen and above all competent naval officers, a class decimated by the Revolution, for it came largely from the royalist Norman and Breton gentry, and which could not be rapidly improvised. In six major and eight minor naval engagements between the British and the French, the French losses in men were something like ten times those of the British 2. But where improvised organization, mobility, flexibility and above all sheer offensive courage and morale counted, the French had no rivals. These advantages did not depend on any man's military genius, for the military record of the French before Napoleon took charge was striking enough, and the average quality of French generalship was not exceptional. But it may well have depended in part on the rejuvenation of the French cadres at home or abroad, which is one of the chief consequences of any revolution. In 1806 out of 142 generals in the mighty Prussian army, seventy-nine were over sixty years of age, as were a quarter of all regimental commanders 3. But in 1806 Napoleon (who had been a general at the age of twenty-four), Murat (who had commanded a brigade at twenty-six), Ney (who did so at twenty-seven) and Davout, were all between twenty-six and thirty-seven years old.
The relative monotony of French success makes it unnecessary to discuss the military operations of the war on land in any great detail. In 1793–4 the French preserved the Revolution. In 1794–5 they occupied the Low Countries, the Rhineland, parts of Spain, Switzerland and Savoy (and Liguria). In 1796 Napoleon's celebrated Italian campaign gave them all Italy and broke the first coalition against France. Napoleon's expedition to Malta, Egypt and Syria (1797–9) was cut off from its base by the naval power of the British, and in his absence the second coalition expelled the French from Italy and threw them back to Germany. The defeat of the allied armies in Switzerland (battle of Zurich, 1799) saved France from invasion, and soon after Napoleon's return and seizure of power the French were on the offensive again. By 1801 they had imposed peace on the remaining continental allies, by 1802 even on the British. Thereafter French supremacy in the regions conquered or controlled in 1794–8 remained unquestioned. A renewed attempt to launch war against them, in 1805–7, merely brought French influence to the borders of Russia. Austria was defeated in 1805 at the battle of Austerlitz in Moravia and peace was imposed on her. Prussia, which entered separately and late, was destroyed at the battles of Jena and Auerstaedt in 1806, and dismembered. Russia, though defeated at Austerlitz, mauled at Eylau (1807) and defeated again at Friedland (1807), remained intact as a military power. The Treaty of Tilsit (1807) treated her with justifiable respect, though establishing French hegemony over the rest of the continent, omitting Scandinavia and the Turkish Balkans. An Austrian attempt to shake free in 1809 was defeated at the battles of Aspern-Essling and Wagram. However, the revolt of the Spaniards in 1808, against the imposition of Napoleon's brother Joseph as their king, opened up a field of operations for the British, and maintained constant military activity in the Peninsula, unaffected by the periodic defeats and retreats of the British (e.g. in 1809–10).
On the sea, however, the French were by this time completely defeated. After the battle of Trafalgar (1805) any chance, not merely of invading Britain across the channel but of maintaining contact overseas, disappeared. No way of defeating Britain appeared to exist except economic pressure, and this Napoleon attempted to exert effectively through the Continental System (1806). The difficulties of imposing this blockade effectively undermined the stability of the Tilsit settlement and led to the break with Russia, which was the turning-point of Napoleon's fortunes. Russia was invaded and Moscow occupied. Had the Tsar made peace, as most of Napoleon's enemies had done under similar circumstances, the gamble would have come off. But he did not, and Napoleon faced either endless further war without a clear prospect of victory, or retreat. Both were equally disastrous. The French army's methods as we have seen assumed rapid campaigns in areas sufficiently wealthy and densely peopled for it to live off the land. But what worked in Lombardy or the Rhineland, where such procedures had been first developed, and was still feasible in central Europe, failed utterly in the vast, empty and impoverished spaces of Poland and Russia. Napoleon was defeated not so much by the Russian winter as by his failure to keep the Grand Army properly supplied. The retreat from Moscow destroyed the Army. Of the 610,000 men who had at one time or another crossed the Russian frontier, 100,000 or so recrossed it.
Under these circumstances the final coalition against the French was joined not only by her old enemies and victims, but by all those anxious to be on what was now clearly going to be the winning side; only the king of Saxony left his adhesion too late. A new, and largely raw, French army was defeated at Leipzig (1813), and the allies advanced inexorably into France, in spite of the dazzling manoeuvres of Napoleon, while the British advanced into it from the Peninsula. Paris was occupied and the Emperor resigned on the 6th of April 1814. He attempted to restore his power in 1815, but the battle of Waterloo (June 1815) ended it.
In the course of these decades of war the political frontiers of Europe were redrawn several times. Here we need consider only those changes which, in one way or another, were sufficiently permanent to outlast the defeat of Napoleon.
The most important of these was a general rationalization of the European political map, especially in Germany and Italy. In terms of political geography, the French Revolution ended the European middle ages. The characteristic modern state, which had been evolving for several centuries, is a territorially coherent and unbroken area with sharply defined frontiers, governed by a single sovereign authority and according to a single fundamental system of administration and law. (Since the French Revolution it has also been assumed that it should represent a single ‘nation' or linguistic group, but at this stage a sovereign territorial state did not yet imply this.) The characteristic European feudal state, though it could sometimes look like this, as for instance in medieval England, made no such requirements. It was patterned much more on the ‘estate'. Just as the term ‘the estates of the Duke of Bedford' implies neither that they should all be in a single block, nor that they should all be directly managed by their owner, or held on the same tenancies or terms, nor that sub-tenancies should be excluded, so the feudal state of Western Europe did not exclude a complexity which would appear wholly intolerable today. By 1789 these complexities were already felt to be troublesome. Foreign enclaves found themselves deep in some state's territory, like the papal city of Avignon in France. Territories within one state found themselves, for historical reasons, also dependent on another lord who now happened to be part of another state and therefore, in modern terms, under dual sovereignty.vi ‘Frontiers' in the form of customs-barriers ran between different provinces of the same state. The empire of the Holy Roman Emperor contained his private principalities, accumulated over the centuries and never adequately standardized or unified—the head of the House of Habsburg did not even have a single title to describe his rule over all his territories until 1804vii—and imperial authority over a variety of territories, ranging from great powers in their own right like the kingdom of Prussia (itself not fully unified as such until 1807), through principalities of all sizes, to independent city-state republics and ‘free imperial knights' whose estates, often no bigger than a few acres, happened to have no superior lord. Each of these in turn, if large enough, showed the same lack of territorial unity and standardization, depending on the vagaries of a long history of piece-meal acquisition and the divisions and reunifications of the family heritage. The complex of economic, administrative, ideological and power-considerations which tend to impose a minimum size of territory and population on the modern unit of government, and make us today vaguely uneasy at the thought of, say, UN membership for Liechtenstein, did not yet apply to any extent. Consequently, especially in Germany and Italy, small and dwarf states abounded.
The Revolution and the consequent wars abolished a good many of these relics, partly from revolutionary zeal for territorial unification and standardization, partly by exposing the small and weak states to the greed of their larger neighbours repeatedly and for an unusually long period. Such formal survivals of an earlier age as the Holy Roman Empire, and most city-states and city-empires, disappeared. The Empire died in 1806, the ancient Republics of Genoa and Venice went in 1797 and by the end of the war the German free cities had been reduced to the four. Another characteristic medieval survival, the independent ecclesiastical state, went the same way: the episcopal principalities, Cologne, Mainz, Treves, Salzburg and the rest, went; only the Papal states in central Italy survived until 1870. Annexation, peace-treaties, and the Congresses in which the French systematically attempted to reorganize the German political map (in 1797–8 and 1803) reduced the 234 territories of the Holy Roman Empire—not counting free imperial knights and the like—to forty; in Italy, where generations of jungle warfare had already simplified the political structure—dwarf states existed only at the confines of North and Central Italy—the changes were less drastic. Since most of these changes benefited some soundly monarchial state, Napoleon's defeat merely perpetuated them. Austria would no more have thought of restoring the Venetian Republic, because she had originally acquired its territories through the operation of the French Revolutionary armies, than she would have thought of giving up Salzburg (which she acquired in 1803) merely because she respected the Catholic Church.
Outside Europe, of course, the territorial changes of the wars were the consequence of the wholesale British annexation of other people's colonies and the movements of colonial liberation inspired by the French Revolution (as in San Domingo) or made possible, or imposed, by the temporary separation of colonies from their metropolis (as in Spanish and Portuguese America). The British domination of the seas ensured that most of these changes should be irreversible, whether they had taken place at the expense of the French or (more often) of the anti-French.
Equally important were the institutional changes introduced directly or indirectly by French conquest. At the peak of their power (1810), the French directly governed, as part of France, all Germany left of the Rhine, Belgium, the Netherlands and North Germany eastwards to Luebeck, Savoy, Piedmont, Liguria and Italy west of the Appenines down to the borders of Naples, and the Illyrian provinces from Carinthia down to and including Dalmatia. French family or satellite kingdoms and duchies covered Spain, the rest of Italy, the rest of Rhineland-Westphalia, and a large part of Poland. In all these territories (except perhaps the Grand Duchy of Warsaw) the institutions of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire were automatically applied, or were the obvious models for local administration: feudalism was formally abolished, French legal codes applied and so on. These changes proved far less reversible than the shifting of frontiers. Thus the Civil Code of Napoleon remained, or became once again, the foundation of local law in Belgium, in the Rhineland (even after its return to Prussia) and in Italy. Feudalism, once officially abolished, was nowhere reestablished.
Since it was evident to the intelligent adversaries of France that they had been defeated by the superiority of a new political system, or at any rate by their own failure to adopt equivalent reforms, the wars produced changes not only through French conquest but in reaction against it; in some instances—as in Spain—through both agencies. Napoleon's collaborators, the afrancesados on one side, the liberal leaders of the anti-French Junta of Cadiz on the other, envisaged substantially the same type of Spain, modernized along the lines of the French Revolutionary reforms; and what the ones failed to achieve, the others attempted. A much clearer case of reform by reaction—for the Spanish liberals were reformers first and anti-French only as it were by historical accident—was Prussia. There a form of peasant liberation was instituted, an army with elements of the levée en masse organized, legal, economic and educational reforms carried through entirely under the impact of the collapse of the Frederician army and state at Jena and Auerstaedt, and with overwhelmingly predominant purpose of reversing that defeat.
In fact, it can be said with little exaggeration that no important continental state west of Russia and Turkey and south of Scandinavia emerged from these two decades of war with its domestic institutions wholly unaffected by the expansion or imitation of the French Revolution. Even the ultra reactionary Kingdom of Naples did not actually re-establish legal feudalism once it had been abolished by the French.
But changes in frontiers, laws and government institutions were as nothing compared to a third effect of these decades of revolutionary war: the profound transformation of the political atmosphere. When the French Revolution broke out, the governments of Europe regarded it with relative sangfroid: the mere fact that institutions changed suddenly, that insurrections took place, that dynasties were deposed or kings assassinated and executed did not in itself shock eighteenth century rulers, who were used to it, and who considered such changes in other countries primarily from the point of view of their effect on the balance of power and the relative position of their own. ‘The insurgents I expel from Geneva,' wrote Vergennes, the famous French foreign minister of the old régime, ‘are agents of England, whereas the insurgents in America hold out the prospects of long friendship. My policy towards each is determined not by their political systems, but by their attitude towards France. That is my reason of state.'4 But by 1815 a wholly different attitude towards revolution prevailed, and dominated the policy of the powers.
It was now known that revolution in a single country could be a European phenomenon; that its doctrines could spread across the frontiers and, what was worse, its crusading armies could blow away the political systems of a continent. It was now known that social revolution was possible; that nations existed as something independent of states, peoples as something independent of their rulers, and even that the poor existed as something independent of the ruling classes. ‘The French Revolution,' De Bonald had observed in 1796, ‘is a unique event in history.' 5 The phrase is misleading: it was a universal event. No country was immune from it. The French soldiers who campaigned from Andalusia to Moscow, from the Baltic to Syria—over a vaster area than any body of conquerors since the Mongols, and certainly a vaster area than any previous single military force in Europe except the Norsemen—pushed the universality of their revolution home more effectively than anything else could have done. And the doctrines and institutions they carried with them, even under Napoleon, from Spain to Illyria, were universal doctrines, as the governments knew, and as the peoples themselves were soon to know also. A Greek bandit and patriot expressed their feelings completely:
‘According to my judgment,' said Kolokotrones, ‘the French Revolution and the doings of Napoleon opened the eyes of the world. The nations knew nothing before, and the people thought that kings were gods upon the earth and that they were bound to say that whatever they did was well done. Through this present change it is more difficult to rule the people.'
We have seen the effects of the twenty-odd years of war on the political structure of Europe. But what were the consequences of the actual process of warfare, the military mobilizations and operations, the political and economic measures consequent upon them?
Paradoxically these were greatest where least concerned with the actual shedding of blood; except for France itself which almost certainly suffered higher casualties and indirect population losses than any other country. The men of the revolutionary and Napoleonic period were lucky enough to live between two periods of barbaric warfare—that of the seventeenth century and that of our own—which had the capacity to lay countries waste in a really sensational manner. No area affected by the wars of 1792–1815, not even in the Iberian peninsula, where military operations were more prolonged than anywhere else and popular resistance and reprisal made them more savage, was devastated as parts of Central and Eastern Europe were in the Thirty Years' and Northern Wars of the seventeenth century, Sweden and Poland in the early eighteenth, or large parts of the world in war and civil war in the twentieth. The long period of economic improvement which preceded 1789 meant that famine and its companion, plague and pestilence, did not add excessively to the ravages of battle and plunder; at any rate until after 1811. (The major period of famine occurred after the wars, in 1816– 17.) The military campaigns tended to be short and sharp, and the armaments used—relatively light and mobile artillery—not very destructive by modern standards. Sieges were uncommon. Fire was probably the greatest hazard to dwellings and the means of production, and small houses or farms were easily rebuilt. The only material destruction really difficult to make good quickly in a preindustrial economy is that of timber, fruit- or olive-groves, which take many years to grow, and there does not seem to have been much of that.
Consequently the sheer human losses due to these two decades of war do not appear to have been, by modern standards, frighteningly high; though in fact no government made any attempt to calculate them, and all our modern estimates are vague to the point of guesswork, except those for the French and a few special cases. One million war dead for the entire period 7 compares favourably with the losses of any single major belligerent in the four and a half years of World War I, or for that matter with the 600,000 or so dead of the American Civil War of 1861–5. Even two millions would not, for more than two decades of general warfare, appear particularly murderous, when we remember the extraordinary killing capacity of famines and epidemics in those days: as late as 1865 a cholera epidemic in Spain is reported as having claimed 236,744 victims.8 In fact, no country claims a significant slowing down of the rate of population growth during this period, except perhaps France.
For most inhabitants of Europe other than the combatants, the war probably did not mean more than an occasional direct interruption of the normal tenor of life, if it meant even that. Jane Austen's country families went about their business as though it were not there. Fritz Reuter 's Mecklenburgers recalled the time of foreign occupation as one of small anecdote rather than drama; old Herr Kuegelgen, remembering his childhood in Saxony (one of the ‘cockpits of Europe' whose geographical and political situation attracted armies and battles as only Belgium and Lombardy did besides), merely recalled the odd weeks of armies marching into or quartered in Dresden. Admittedly the number of armed men involved was much higher than had been common in earlier wars, though it was not extraordinary by modern standards. Even conscription did not imply the call-up of more than a fraction of the men affected: the Côte d'Or department of France in Napoleon's reign supplied only 11,000 men out of its 350,000 inhabitants, or 3.15 per cent, and between 1800 and 1815 no more than 7 per cent of the total population of France were called up, as against 21 per cent in the much shorter period in the first world war.9 Still, in absolute figures this was a very large number. The levée en masse of 1793–4 Put perhaps 630,000 men under arms (out of a theoretical call-up of 770,000); Napoleon's peacetime strength in 1805 was 400,000 or so, and at the outset of the campaign against Russia in 1812 the Grande Armée comprised 700,000 men (300,000 of them non-French), without counting the French troops in the rest of the continent, notably in Spain. The permanent mobilizations of the adversaries of France were very much smaller, if only because (with the exception of Britain) they were much less continuously in the field, as well as because financial troubles and organizational difficulties often made full mobilization difficult, e.g. for the Austrians who in 1813 were entitled under the peace treaty of 1809 to 150,000 men, but had only 60,000 actually ready for a campaign. The British, on the other hand, kept a surprisingly large number of men mobilized. At their peak (1813–14), with enough money voted for 300,000 in the regular army and 140,000 seamen and marines, they may well have carried a proportionately heavier load on their manpower than the French did for most of the war viii 10.
Losses were heavy, though once again not excessively so by the murderous standards of our century; but curiously few of them were actually due to the enemy. Only 6 or 7 per cent of the British sailors who died between 1793 and 1815 succumbed to the French; 80 per cent died from disease or accident. Death on the battlefield was a small risk; only 2 per cent of the casualties at Austerlitz, perhaps 8 or 9 per cent of those at Waterloo, were actually killed. The really frightening risk of war was neglect, filth, poor organization, defective medical services and hygienic ignorance, which massacred the wounded, the prisoners, and in suitable climatic conditions (as in the tropics) practically everybody.
Actual military operations killed people, directly and indirectly, and destroyed productive equipment, but, as we have seen, they did neither to an extent which seriously interfered with the normal tenor of a country's life and development. The economic requirements of war, and economic warfare, had more far-reaching consequences.
By the standards of the eighteenth century, the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars were expensive beyond precedent; and indeed their cost in money impressed contemporaries perhaps even more than their cost in lives. Certainly the fall in the financial burden of war in the generation after Waterloo was far more striking than the fall in the human cost: it is estimated that while wars between 1821 and 1850 cost an average of less than 10 per cent per year of the equivalent figure for 1790– 1820, the annual average of war-deaths remained at a little less than 25 per cent of the earlier period 11. How was this cost to be paid? The traditional method had been a combination of monetary inflation (the issue of new currency to pay the government's bills), loans, and the minimum of special taxation, for taxes created public discontent and (where they had to be granted by parliaments or estates) political trouble. But the extraordinary financial demands and conditions of the wars broke or transformed all these.
In the first place they familiarized the world with unconvertible paper money.ix On the continent the ease with which pieces of paper could be printed, to pay government obligations, proved irresistible. The French Assignats (1789) were at first simply French Treasury bonds (bons de trésor) with 5 per cent interest, designed to anticipate the proceeds of the eventual sale of church lands. Within a few months they had been transformed into currency, and each successive financial crisis caused them to be printed in greater quantity, and to depreciate more steeply, aided by the increasing lack of confidence of the public. By the outbreak of war they had depreciated about 40 per cent, by June 1793 about two-thirds. The Jacobin régime maintained them fairly well, but the orgy of economic decontrol after Thermidor reduced them progressively to about one three-hundredth of their face value, until official state bankruptcy in 1797 put an end to a monetary episode which prejudiced the French against any kind of banknote for the better part of a century. The paper currencies of other countries had less catastrophic careers, though by 1810 the Russian had fallen to 20 per cent of face value and the Austrian (twice devalued, in 1810 and 1815) to 10 per cent. The British avoided this particular form of financing war and were familiar enough with banknotes not to shy away from them, but even so the Bank of England could not resist the double pressure of the vast government demand—largely sent abroad as loans and subsidies—the private run on its bullion and the special strain of a famine year. In 1797 gold payments to private clients were suspended and the inconvertible banknote became, de facto, the effective currency: the £1 note was one result. The ‘paper pound' never depreciated as seriously as continental currencies—its lowest mark was 71 per cent of face value and by 1817 it was back to 98 per cent—but it did last very much longer than had been anticipated. Not until 1821 were cash payments fully resumed.
The other alternative to taxation was loans, but the dizzying rise in the public debt produced by the unexpectedly heavy and prolonged expenditure of war frightened even the most prosperous, wealthy and financially sophisticated countries. After five years of financing the war essentially by loans, the British Government was forced into the unprecedented and portentous step of paying for the war out of direct taxation, introducing an income tax for this purpose (1799–1816). The rapidly increasing wealth of the country made this perfectly feasible, and the cost of the war henceforth was essentially met out of current income. Had adequate taxation been imposed from the beginning, the National Debt would not have risen from £228 millions in 1793 to £876 millions in 1816, and the annual debt charge from £10 millions in 1792 to £30 millions in 1815, which was greater than the total government outlay in the last pre-war year. The social consequences of such indebtedness were very great, for in effect it acted as a funnel for diverting increasingly large amounts of the tax revenue paid by the population at large into the pockets of the small class of rich ‘fund-holders' against whom spokesmen of the poor and the small businessmen and farmers, like William Cobbett, launched their journalistic thunderbolts. Abroad loans were mainly raised (at least on the anti-French side) from the British Government, which had long followed a policy of subsidizing military allies: between 1794 and 1804 it raised £80 millions for this purpose. The main direct beneficiaries were the international financial houses—British or foreign, but operating increasingly through London, which became the main centre of international financing—like the Barings and the House of Rothschild, who acted as intermediaries in these transactions. (Meyer Amschel Rothschild, the founder, sent his son Nathan from Frankfurt to London in 1798.) The great age of these international financiers came after the wars, when they financed the major loans designed to help old régimes recover from war and new ones to stabilize themselves. But the foundation of the era when the Barings and the Rothschilds dominated world finance, as nobody since the great German banks of the sixteenth century had done, was constructed during the wars.
However, the technicalities of wartime finance are less important than the general economic effect of the great diversion of resources from peacetime to military uses, which a major war entails. It is clearly wrong to regard the war-effort as entirely drawn from, or at the expense of, the civilian economy. The armed forces may to some extent mobilize only men who would otherwise be unemployed, or even unemployable within the limits of the economy.x War industry, though in the short run diverting men and materials from the civilian market, may in the long run stimulate developments which ordinary considerations of profit in peacetime would have neglected. This was proverbially the case with the iron and steel industries which, as we have seen (see chapter 2), enjoyed no possibilities of rapid expansion comparable to the cotton textiles, and therefore traditionally relied for their stimulus on government and war. ‘During the eighteenth century,' Dionysius Lardner wrote in 1831, ‘iron foundery became almost identified with the casting of cannon.' 12 We may well therefore regard part of the diversion of capital resources from peacetime uses as in the nature of long-term investment in capital goods industries and technical development. Among the technological innovations thus created by the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars were the beet-sugar industry on the continent (as a replacement for imported cane-sugar from the West Indies), and the canned food industry (which arose from the British navy's search for foodstuffs which could be indefinitely preserved on shipboard). Nevertheless, making all allowances, a major war does mean a major diversion of resources, and might even, under conditions of mutual blockade, mean that the wartime and peacetime sector of the economy competed directly for the same scarce resources.
An obvious consequence of such competition is inflation, and we know that in fact the period of war pushed the slope of the slowly rising eighteenth-century price-level steeply upwards in all countries though some of this was due to monetary devaluation. This in itself implies, or reflects, a certain redistribution of incomes, which has economic consequences; for instance, towards businessmen and away from wage-earners (since wages normally lag behind prices), and towards agriculture, which proverbially welcomes the high prices of wartime, and away from manufactures. Conversely, the end of the wartime demand, which releases a mass of resources—including men—hitherto employed by war, on to the peacetime market, brought, as always, correspondingly more intense problems of readjustment. To take an obvious example: between 1814 and 1818 the strength of the British army was cut by about 150,000 men, or more than the contemporary population of Manchester, and the level of wheat prices fell from 108.5 shillings a quarter in 1813 to 64.2 shillings in 1815. In fact we know the period of post-war adjustment to have been one of abnormal economic difficulties all over Europe; intensified moreover by the disastrous harvests of 1816–17.
We ought, however, to ask a more general question. How far. did the diversion of resources due to the war impede or slow down the economic development of different countries? Clearly this question is of particular importance for France and Britain, the two major economic powers, and the two carrying the heaviest economic burden. The French burden was due not so much to the war in its later stages, for this was designed largely to pay for itself at the expense of the foreigners whose territories the conquering armies looted or requisitioned, and on whom they imposed levies of men, materials and money. About half the Italian tax revenue went to the French in 1805–12.13 It probably did not do so, but it was also clearly much cheaper—in real as well as monetary terms—than it would otherwise have been. The real disruption of the French economy was due to the decade of revolution, civil war and chaos, which, for instance, reduced the turnover of the Seine-Inférieure (Rouen) manufactures from 41 to 15 millions between 1790 and 1795, and the number of their workers from 246,000 to 86,000. To this must be added the loss of overseas commerce due to the British control of the seas. The British burden was due to the cost of carrying not only the country's own war effort but, through the traditional subsidies to continental allies, some of that for other states. In monetary terms the British carried by far the heaviest load during the war: it cost them between three and four times as much as it did the French.
The answer to the general question is easier for France than for Britain, for there is little doubt that the French economy remained relatively stagnant, and the French industry and commerce would almost certainly have expanded further and faster but for the revolution and the wars. Though the country's economy advanced very substantially under Napoleon, it could not compensate for the regression and the lost impetus of the 1790s. For the British the answer is less obvious, for their expansion was meteoric, and the only question is whether, but for the war, it would have been more rapid still. The generally accepted answer today is that it would.14 For the other countries the question is generally of less importance where economic development was slow, or fluctuating as in much of the Habsburg Empire, and where the quantitative impact of the war-effort was relatively small.
Of course such bald statements beg the question. Even the frankly economic wars of the British in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were not supposed to advance economic development by themselves or by stimulating the economy, but by victory: by eliminating competitors and capturing new markets. Their ‘cost' in disrupted business, diversion of resources and the like was measured against their ‘profit', which was expressed in the relative position of the belligerent competitors after the war. By these standards the wars of 1793–1815 clearly more than paid for themselves. At the cost of a slight slowing down of an economic expansion which nevertheless remained gigantic, Britain decisively eliminated her nearest possible competitor and became the ‘workshop of the world' for two generations. In terms of every industrial or commercial index, Britain was very much further ahead of all other states (with the possible exception of the USA) than she had been in 1789. If we believe that the temporary elimination of her rivals and the virtual monopoly of maritime and colonial markets were an essential precondition of Britain's further industrialization, the price of achieving it was modest. If we argue that by 1789 her head start was already sufficient to ensure British economic supremacy without a long war, we may still hold that the cost of defending it against the French threat to recover by political and military means the ground lost in economic competition was not excessive.
i. James Watt's son actually went to France, to his father's alarm.
ii. To wit Priestley, Bentham, Wilberforce, Clarkson (the anti-slavery agitator), James Mackintosh, David Williams from Britain, Klopstock, Schiller, Campe and Anarcharsis Cloots from Germany, Pestalozzi from Switzerland, Kosziusko from Poland, Gorani from Italy, Cornelius de Pauw from the Netherlands, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Tom Paine and Joel Barlow from the USA. Not all of these were sympathizers with the Revolution.
iii. This may not be unconnected with the fact that Scottish Jacobinism was a very much more powerful popular force.
iv. As Poland was essentially a Republic of the nobility and gentry, the constitution was ‘jacobin' only in the most superficial sense: the rule of the nobles was reinforced rather than abolished.
v. The French even failed to establish a satellite Rhineland Republic.
vi. A lone European survivor of this genus is the republic of Andorra, which is under the dual suzerainty of the Spanish Bishop of Urgel and the President of the French Republic.
vii. He was merely, in his single person, Duke of Austria, King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Count of Tyrol, etc.
viii. As these figures are based on the money authorized by Parliament, the number of men raised was certainly smaller.
ix. In actual fact any kind of paper money, whether exchangeable upon demand for bullion or not, was relatively uncommon before the end of the eighteenth century.
x. This was the basis of the strong tradition of emigration for mercenary military service in overpopulated mountain regions like Switzerland.
1. Cf. e.g. W. von Groote, Die Entstehung d. Nationalbewussteins in Nordwestdeutschland 1790–1830 (1952).
2. M. Lewis, A Social History of the Navy, 1793–1815 (1960), pp. 370, 373.
3. Gordon Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640–1945 (1955), p. 26.
4. A. Sorel, L’Europe et la révolution francaise, I (1922 ed.), p. 66.
5. Considérations sur la France, Chapter IV.
6. Quoted in L. S. Stavrianos, Antecedents to Balkan Revolutions, Journal of Modern History, XXIX, 1957,p. 344.
7. G. Bodart, Losses of Life in Modern Wars (1916), p. 133.
8. J. Vicens Vives ed. Historia Social de España y America (1956), IV, ii, p. 15.
9. G. Bruun, Europe and the French Imperium (1938), p. 72.
10. J. Leverrier, La Naissance de l’armée nationale, 1789–94 (1939), p. 139; G. Lefebvre, Napoléon (1936), pp. 198, 527; M. Lewis, op. cit., p. 119; Parliamentary Papers XVII, 1859, p. 15.
11. Mulhall, Dictionary of Statistics: War.
12. Cabinet Cyclopedia, I, pp. 55–6 (‘Manufactures in Metal’).
13. E. Tarlé, Le blocus continental et le royaume d’Italie (1928), pp. 3–4, 25–31; H. Sée, Histoire Economique de la France, II, p. 52; Mulhall, loc. cit.
14. Gayer, Rostow and Schwartz, Growth and Fluctuation of the British Economy, 1790–1850 (1953), pp. 646–9; F. Crouzet, Le blocus continental et l’économie Britannique (1958), p. 868 ff.