French Revolution
Impact on Britain

Reaction on the French Revolution

Germany was split into uncountable states and statelets, especially the western part of the country. Merchants who travelled 50 km from one city to another would have to cross several state borders, pass through customs. In addition, he might have to pay for the right to pass a bridge. There were different currencies, different sets of measurement, different laws (privileges are individualized laws or law exemptions).
In Germany, just as in other countries of continental Europe, dissatisfaction with absolute rule, the outdated feudal structure of society, with privileges favorizing the few over the mass, were widespread. So news of the French revolution was welcomed by many, especially among Germany's intellectuals.

Jacobinism found followers in Germany, especially in MAINZ (GEORG FORSTER), where a tree of liberty was planted on market square; Mainz, together with the entire left bank of the Rhine, was annexed by France in 1795. Southern Germany became theater of war 1795-1800. The wars created an atmosphere of insecurity and the formation of bands of robbers ravaging the countryside, such as SCHINDERHANNES and as portrayed in FRIEDRICH SCHILLER's DIE RAEUBER (the robbers).
In 1803, the REICHSDEPUTATIONSHAUPTSCHLUSS resulted in a major geopolitical reform; the ecclesiastical territories were secularized, the number of territories drastically reduced. However, Napoleon's favoritism, his disinterest for the German nation and, most of all, his self-coronation in 1804 turned many Germans off, for instance LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, who had written the EROICA with Napoleon Bonaparte in mind. After the coronation, Beethoven erased the dedication to Napoleon.
The conduct of French troops in Germany, the creation of artificial kingdoms for his brothers (KINGDOM OF WESTPHALIA) turned many Germans into ardent ANTI-FRENCH NATIONALISTS : HEINRICH VON KLEIST, FRIEDRICH HOELDERLIN and others vehemently supported Archduke Karl's appeal to the Germans in 1809, were full of enthusiasm after his victory in the BATTLE OF ASPERN and desperate after his defeat in the BATTLE OF WAGRAM a month later.
As the writers appealed to Nationalism, regarding Spain's PEOPLES WAR as a model for Germany, the spirit of patriotism found more and more followers. When in 1813 Napoleon returned from Russia, defeated and without army, volunteers formed batallions (LUETZOW FIGHTERS) and participated in the WARS OF LIBERATION. Poet THEODOR KOERNER died in the BATTLE OF LEIPZIG.
Many of these volunteering patriots were burghers, students, people hoping both for Germany's unification and for a written liberal constitution. German patriotism, although verbally anti-French, was anti-Napoleon, not against the achievements of the French Revolution.

Infoplease Encyclopedia entires on Heinrich von Kleist , Friedrich Hoelderlin, Ludwig van Beethoven
Battle of Leipzig, by
Biography of Ernst Moritz Arndt, from Napoleonic Wars by Mikael Andersson
DOCUMENTS Lützow's wilde verwegene Jagd (Lützow's wild, valiant hunt), song of the volunteers of 1813, by Guido Stolz (in German)
Ernst Moritz Arndt, The German Fatherland, from Modern History Sourcebook; also from Napoleonic Wars by Mikael Andersson
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Address to the German Nation, 1807, from Modern History Sourcebook
Chronologische Geschichte oder Tagebuch vom Deutschen Freiheits-Kriege (Chronological history or diary of the German War of Liberation), anon., 1814, facsimile, posted by Napoleon Online
Setting up the Tree of Liberty, from Kunsthaus Bensberg
Village school, c. 1800, from Kunsthaus Bensberg, commercial site

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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