Early Nationalism

Early 19th century Nationalism may be explained as an anti-reaction against the Ancien Regime, against the Catholic Church, which used Latin as lingua franca, against her supra-national structure, against her status of state church and her other privileges. Against feudal nobility, which used French as lingua franca, against her privileges. Against the outdated structure of tripartite estates, organized by status. Against a monarchy trying to preserve these outdated structures.
France, during the French Revolution, had succeeded in overcoming these structures, and established a series of values - liberal values : equality in front of the law (thus abolition of privileges of nobility and clergy), separation of church and state (thus civil registry, civil marriage, state control over education), freedom of speech and assembly. The French Revolution had replaced the King, as sovereign, by La Nation.
The French Revolution also brought numerous excesses; France, in the Wars of the Coalitions and under Napoleon Bonaparte, not only spread the revolutionary reforms throughout large areas of continental Europe, but also caused great suffering, in the process alienating many; hatred of the French turned many into Spanish, German, Russian nationalists.

In the early 19th century, it is difficult to distinguish between Liberals and Nationalists; most liberals were patriots, most nationalists were liberals.
The expression of nation was ill-defined. A common definition of the time was the community of speakers of a certain language. The state of France, as the archetype of a nation, contained ethnic minorities speaking other languages - the Bretons, the Corsicans, the Flemish speakers from Flandre, the German speakers in the Alsace and parts of Lorraine. On the other hand, the population of Savoy proper, of the Val d'Aoste, of western Switzerland and of Wallonia spoke French.
In case of states such as England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, state and nation came close, as the English, French, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian speakers made up the far majority of the population, minorities being to small to question the identification of nation and state. Nation and state were regarded identical, and thus there was not much of a contradiction between liberals and nationalists in these countries.
Italy and Germany were divided into numerous states, Poland divided among neighbouring powers. The Irish, Finns, Czechs, Greeks etc. were subjects to a foreign ruler. The Irish, Finns, Czechs, Estonians, Latvians mostly were peasants, while the nobility in these countries was of a foreign origin.
Many of the European languages had, until now, been used exclusively or almost exclusively in an oral environment. Even if there was a written literature, grammar and orthography had not been standardized yet; linguists took on the task to establish such a standardization during the 19th century. The question of standardization of orthography and spelling was a political one, as it distinguished between languages (to be taught in school) and dialects. The similarity of Scandinavian languages caused intellectuals in Sweden, less emphatically in Denmark and Norway, to promote Pan-Scandinavianism, intellectuals in Bohemia, Moravia, Croatia to promote Pan-Slavism respectively Illyrianism (Yugoslavism).

In these countries, where the nation either was partitioned into numerous political entities or/and suffered from foreign rule, a contradiction between liberals and nationalists was possible - concerning their priorities : which goal came first, a liberal constitution or national unification respectively liberation. Lack of agreement on priorities lead to the failure of the Revolution of 1848 in Germany.

Most countries, in the first half of the 19th century, were monarchies which pursued a policy of Restauration, of supporting the privileges of the nobility, of rejecting liberal constitutions. Liberal patriots all over Europe supported the Greek struggle for independence. The Revolutions of 1830 and 1848, although national in character, where European phenomena. In 1830, liberal burghers all over Europe supported the revolutions in France, and Poland; Polish exiles were celebrated in the countries they visited. At the Hambach Festival of 1832 (Germany), speaker Johann Georg August Wirth praised the French and the Poles for taking action, and criticized the governments for their treatment of the Poles.
In 1840 the French parliament debated the annexation of the left bank of the Rhine (to the most part, Prussia's Rhine Province, and Bavaria's Pfalz province. Newspaper coverage of this debate caused a furious reaction among German patriots; Heinrich Hofmann wrote the lyrics to the Deutschlandlied (Song of the Germans; national anthem since 1919), Max Schneckenburger wrote Die Wacht am Rhein (Guard on the Rhine). Even Heinrich Heine, a German exile poet living in Paris, France, emphatically renounced the French claim. The project of the annexation of the left bank of the German Rhineland did not materialize; the songs written as a response to it became integral part of German culture. The united front of European liberal patriots, in common action against the ancien regimes, shattered.

The concept of changing the map of Europe in states based on nationalities caused a problem, as there were many areas of mixed population, where it was not that easy to draw national borders. Finland was home to a Swedish minority, which, for centuries, had dominated public life. An ethnic Swede, Elias Lönnrot, by recording and compiling the Kalevala, Finnland's national epic, contributed to the development of a Finnish national identity. Similarly, individuals of an ethnic German background contributed to the development of a written Estonian language, of the Czech national movement. Nationality was not only a question of parentage and education, but, in a number of cases or even groups, a matter of a conscious decision; Lönnroth may be regarded a Finn by choice.
In Dalmatia, Niccolo Tommaseo promoted a Dalmatian identity, a cooperation of Italian and Slavic population elements. In Schleswig, historically a Danish duchy, a large segment of the population felt German, and, in 1848, resisted an attempt to incorporate the duchy into a Danish nation state. The small German minority in the Prussian province of Posen in 1848 vehemently campaigned for incorporation in the debated German nation state. The Schleswig and Posen issues were emotional issues at the Frankfurt National Assembly of 1848/49, and contributed to the failure of the democratic attempt to unify Germany.
In the 1840es, German nationalism was increasingly defined as hostile to French, Polish, Danish nationalism. From 1848 onward, the beginning of the breakup of German liberalism into progressive liberals and national liberals, the first prioritizing a liberal constitution, the second national unification, was laid.

Article Elias Lönnrot, from Wikipedia
DOCUMENTS Modern History Sourcebook : Nationalism
Die Wacht am Rhein (1840), posted by ingeb.org, German text with English translation
Deutschlandlied (1841), posted by H.L. Dettling, German text, partial English translation
REFERENCE Charles Breunig, The Age of Revolution and Reaction, 1789-1850, NY : Norton (1970) 1977, KMLA Lib.Sign. 940.2 N882h v.5
Raymond Pearson, European Nationalism 1789-1920, London : Longman 1994, 336 pp. [G]
W. Hartwig and H. Hinze, Vom Deutschen Bund zum Kaiserreich, 1815-1871 (Deutsche Geschichte in Quellen und Darstellungen Vol.7), Stuttgart : Reclam 1997 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 4th 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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