The American revolution.
The continent of Europe
The successes of the Seven Years War were the
triumphs of Protestantism.
For the first time since the breach made in the church by Luther, the great Catholic powers, attracted by a secret consciousness of the decay of old institutions, banded themselves together to arrest the progress of change.
In vain did the descendants of the feudal aristocracies lead to the field superior numbers; in vain did the Pope
bless their banners as though uplifted against unbelievers; no God of battles breathed life into their hosts, and the resistless heroism of the earlier chivalry was no more.
A wide-spread suspicion of insincerity weakened the influence of priestcraft, which relapsed from confident menace into a decorous compromise with skepticism.
The Catholic monarchies, in their struggle against innovations, had encountered overwhelming
defeat; and the cultivated world stood ready to wel-
come a new era. The forms of religion, government, military service, and industry, which lent to the social organization of the Middle Age
a compacted unity, were undermined; and the venerable fabric, clinging to the past, hung over the future as
A mighty rock,
Which has, from unimaginable years,
Sustained itself with terror and with toil
Over a gulf; and with the agony
With which it clings, seems slowly coming down.
The dynasties which received their consecration from the Roman church, would cease to array themselves in arms against the offspring of the reformers; in the long tumultuous strife, Protestantism had fulfilled its political ends, and was never again to convulse the world.
But from Protestantism there came forth a principle of all-pervading energy, the common possession of civilized man, and the harbinger of new changes in the state.
The life-giving truth of the Reformation was the right of private judgment.
This personal liberty in affairs of conscience had, by the illustrious teachings of Descartes
, been diffused through the nations which adhered to the old faith, under the more comprehensive form of philosophical freedom.
Everywhere throughout intelligent Europe
, the separate man was growing aware of the inhering right to the unfettered culture and enjoyment of his whole moral and intellectual being.
Individuality was the groundwork of new theories in politics, ethics, and industry.
, where the human mind groped its way
through heavy clouds of tradition, inquisitive activity assumed universally the form of doubt.
From discussions on religion, it turned to the analysis of institutions and opinions.
Having, in the days of Luther and Calvin, pleaded the Bible
against popes and prelates and the one indivisible church, it now invoked the authority of reason, and applied it to every object of human thought; to science, speculative philosophy, and art; to the place of our planet in the order of the heavens and the nature and destiny of the race that dwells on it; to every belief and every polity inherited from the past; to the priestly altar which the veneration of centuries had glorified; to the royal throne which the Catholic church had hallowed, and which the social hierarchy of feudalism had required as its head.
Skepticism was the method of the new reform; its tendency, revolution.
Sad era for European
which was to advance towards light and liberty only through universal distrust; and, before faith could be inspired by genial love to construct new governments, was doomed to gaze helplessly as its received institutions crumbled away.
The Catholic system embraced all society in its religious unity; Protestantism broke that religious unity into sects and fragments; philosophy carried analysis through the entire range of human thought and action, and appointed each individual the arbiter of his own belief and the director of his own powers.
Society would be organized again; but not till after the recognition of the rights of the individual.
Unity would once more be restored, but not through the canon and feudal law; for the new Catholic element was the people.
Yet Protestantism, albeit the reform in religion
was the seed-plot of democratic revolutions, had at first been attended by the triumph of absolute monarchy throughout continental Europe
; where even the Catholic
powers themselves grew impatient of the authority of the Pope
over their temporal affairs.
The Protestant king, who had just been the ally of our fathers in the Seven Years War, presented the first great example of the passage of feudal sovereignty into unlimited monarchy, resting on a standing military force.
Still surrounded by danger, his inflexible and uncontrolled will stamped the impress of harshness even on his necessary policy, of tyranny on his errors of judgment, and of rapine and violence on his measures for aggrandizement.
, which was the favorite disciple of Luther and the child of the Reformation, while it held the sword upright, bore with every creed and set reason free.
It offered a shelter to Rousseau
, and called in D'Alembert and Voltaire
as its guests; it set Semler to hold the Bible
itself under the light of criticism; it breathed into the boldly thoughtful Lessing widest hopes for the education of the race to a universal brotherhood on earth; it gave its youth to the teachings of Immanuel Kant
, who, for power of analysis and universality, was inferior to none since Aristotle.
‘An army and a treasure do not constitute a power,’ said Vergennes
; but Prussia
had also philosophic liberty.
All freedom of mind in Germany
hailed the peace of Hubertsburg as its own victory.1
In every question of public law, Frederic, though full of respect for the rights of possession, continuing to noble birth its prescriptive posts and almost
leaving his people divided into castes, made the welfare
of the kingdom paramount to privilege.
He challenged justice under the law for the humblest against the highest.
He among Protestants set the bright pattern of the equality of Catholics
in worship and in civil condition.
To heal the conflict of franchises in the several provinces of his realm, he planned a general code, of which the faults are chiefly due to the narrowness of the lawyers of his day. His ear was open to the sorrows of the poor and the complaint of the crushed; and as in time of war he shared peril and want with the common soldier, in peace the peasant that knocked at his palace gate was welcome to a hearing.
‘I love the lineage of heroes,’ he would say, ‘but I love merit more.’
‘Patents of nobility are but phantoms; true worth is within.’
As he studied the history of the human race, the distinctions of rank vanished before his eyes; so that he would say, ‘Kings
are nothing but men, and all men are equal.’
Thus he arraigned the haughtiness of hereditary station, yet without forming purposes or clear conceptions of useful change.
Not forfeiting the affection of his people, and not exciting their restless impatience, he yet made no effort to soften the glaring contrast between his philosophy and the political constitution of his kingdom.
In the age of doubt he was its hero.
Full of hope for the people, yet distrusting them for their blind superstitions; scoffing at the arrogance of the nobility and the bigoted pride of legitimate kings, yet never devising their overthrow; rejecting atheism as an absurdity2
, yet never achieving the serene repose of an unwavering faith;
passionate against those who held that human thought
and the human soul are but forms of matter, yet never inspired with the sense of immortality; confiding neither in the capacity of the great multitude, nor the wisdom of philosophers, nor the power of religion, nor the disposition of kings, nor the promise of the coming age, he moved through the world as the colossal genius of skepticism, questioning the past which he knew not how to reform.
Holding no colonies, he could calmly watch their growth to independence; indulging an antipathy against the king of England
, he might welcome the experiment of the widelyextending American commonwealth, but not with confidence in its happy course.
If the number of active minds in cultivated Prussia
was not yet large enough to give to forming opinion a popular aspect, in Russia
, the immense empire which was extending itself along the Baltic
and the Euxine, and had even crossed the Pacific
to set up its banners in Northwestern America
, free inquiry had something of solitary dignity as the almost exclusive guest of the empress.
First of the great powers of Europe
in population, and exceeding all of them together in extent of European
lands, the great Slavonic State was not proportionably strong and opulent.
More than twothirds of its inhabitants were bondsmen and slaves, thinly scattered over vast domains.
The slave held the plough; the slave bent over the anvil, or threw the shuttle; the slave wrought the mines.
The nobles, who directed the labor on their estates, in manufactures, or the search for ores, read no books from abroad, and as yet had no native literature.
The little science that faintly gleamed on the interior was diffused through
the priests of the Greek church, themselves bred up
in superstition; so that the Slavonic race, which was neither Protestant nor Catholic—which had neither been ravaged by the wars of religion, nor educated by the discussions of creeds—a new and rising power in the world, standing on the confines of Europe
, not wholly Oriental
and still less of the West
, displayed the hardy but torpid vigor of a people not yet vivified by intelligence, still benumbed by blind belief, ignorance, and servitude.
Its political unity existed in the strength of its monarchy, which organized its armies and commanded them without control; made laws, and provided for their execution; appointed all officers, and displaced them at will; directed the internal administration and the relations with foreign powers.
The sovereign who held these absolute prerogatives was Catherine, a princess of a German Protestant house.
Her ambition had secured the throne by adopting her husband's religion, conniving at his deposition, and not avenging his murder.
Her love of pleasure solicited a licentiousness of moral opinion; her passion for praise sought to conciliate the good will of men of letters; so that she blended the adoption of the new philosophy with the grandeur, the crimes, and the voluptuousness of Asiatic despotism.
If she invaded Poland
, it would be under the pretext of protecting religious freedom; if she moved towards the Bosphorus, she would surround herself with the delusive halo of some imaginary restoration of the liberties of ancient Greece
At home respecting the property of the nobles, yet seeking to diminish the number of slaves;3
an apparent devotee to the faith of the Greek church, yet giving religious
freedom to the Catholic
and the Protestant, and even
printing the Koran for the Mussulmans of her dominions: abroad, she bent neither to France
nor to England
Her policy was thoroughly true to the empire that adopted her, and yet imbued with the philosophy of western Europe
With deserts near at hand to colonize, with the Mediterranean inviting her flag, she formed no wish of conquering Spanish colonies on the Pacific
; and we shall find her conduct towards England
, in its relations with America
, held in balance between the impulse from the liberal systems of thought which she made it her glory to cherish, and the principle of monarchy which flattered her love of praise and was the basis of her power.
Soon after the peace of Hubertsburg, the youthful heir to the Austrian dominions, which, with Prussia
, shaped the politics of eastern and northern Europe
, was elected the successor to the Imperial
crown of Germany
As an Austrian prince, it was the passion of Joseph the Second to rival Frederic of Prussia
His mother, Maria Theresa
, was a devotee in her attachment to the church.
The son, hating the bigotry in which he was nurtured, inclined to skepticism and unbelief.
The mother venerated with an absurd intensity of deference the prerogatives of an unmixed aristocratic descent; the son affected to deride all distinctions of birth, and asserted the right to freedom of mind with such integrity, that he refused to impair it when afterwards it came to be exercised against himself.
But, in the conflict which he provoked with the past, he mixed philanthropy with selfishness, and his hasty zeal to abolish ancient abuses was subordinate to a passion for sequestering political immunities,
and concentrating all power in his own hands.
As a reformer, he therefore failed in every part of his dominions; and as he brought no enduring good to Hungary
, but rather an example of violating its constitution, so we shall find the Austrian court the only great European
power which, both as an ally of England
and an enemy to republics, remained inflexibly opposed to America
Yet the efforts of Joseph the Second, ill-judged and vain as they were, illustrate the universality of the new influence.4
The German empire, of which he was so soon to be the head, was the creature and the symbol of the Middle Ages
Its life was gone.
The forms of liberty were there, but the substance had perished under the baleful excess of aristocracy.
was an elective officer, but his constituents were only princes.
Of the nine electors, three were Roman Catholic Archbishops, owing their rank to the choice of others; but their constituents were of the unmixed nobility, to whom entrance into the electoral chapters was exclusively reserved.
The sovereignty of the empire resided, not in the emperor, but in the great representative body of the whole country, or Diet, as it was called, which was composed of the emperor himself, of about one hundred independent prelates and princes, and of delegates from nine and forty independent towns.
These last, besides the free cities of Bremen
, had internally not only municipal liberties, but self-government, and were so many little republics, dotted throughout the land, from the Rhine
to the Danube
But in the Diet, their votes counted as
As the people on the one side were not
heard, so the dignity of the Imperial
crown on the other brought no substantial power; and as the hundred princes were never disposed to diminish their separate independence, it followed that the German empire was but a vain shadow.
The princes and nobles parcelled out the land, and ruled it in severalty with an authority which there was none to dispute, to guide, or to restrain.
Nobility throughout Germany
was strictly a caste.
The younger son of a subordinate and impoverished noble family would not have wedded with the wealthiest plebeian heiress.
Various chapters and ecclesiastical preferments were accessible to those only who were of unmixed aristocratic ancestry.
It followed, that, in the breast of the educated commoner, no political passion was so strong as the hatred of nobility; for nowhere in the world was the pride of birth so great as in the petty German principalities.
The numerous little princes—absolute within their own narrow limits over a hopeless people, whose fortunes they taxed at will, whose lives and services they not only claimed for the service of the state and of themselves, but as merchantable property which might be transferred to others—made up for the small extent of their dominions by an excess of self-adulation; though, after all, as was said of them by one of the greatest German poets, who was ready to praise merit wherever found, they were but ‘demi-men, who, in perfectly serious stupidity, thought themselves beings of a higher nature than we.’5
But their pride was a
pride which licked the dust, for ‘almost all of them
were venal and pensionary.’6
The United Provinces
of the Netherlands, the forerunner of nations in religious tolerance, were, from the origin of their confederacy, the natural friends of intellectual freedom.
Here thought ranged through the wide domain of speculative reason.
Here the literary fugitive found an asylum, and the boldest writings, which in other countries circulated by stealth, were openly published to the world.
But in their European
relations, the Netherlands were no more a great maritime power.
They had opulent free ports in the West Indies
, colonies in South America
, Southern Africa
, and the East Indies
, with the best harbor in the Indian Ocean
: their paths, as of old, were on the deep, and their footsteps in many waters.
They knew they could be opulent only through commerce, and their system of mercantile policy was liberal beyond that of every nation in Europe
Even their colonial ports were less closely shut against the traffic with other countries.
This freedom bore its fruits: they became wealthy beyond compare, reduced their debt, and were able so to improve their finances, that their funds, bearing only two per cent. interest, rose considerably above par. Ever the champions of the freedom of the seas, at the time of their greatest naval power, they had in their treaty of 1674 with England
, embodied the safety of neutrals in time of war, limiting contraband articles of trade, and making goods on shipboard as safe as the ships that bore
But the accession of the Stadtholder,7
to the throne of England
was fatal to the political weight of the Netherlands.
From the rival of England
they became her ally, and almost her subordinate; and guided by her policy, they exhausted their means in land forces and barriers against France
, leaving their navy to decline, and their fleets to disappear from the ocean.
Hence arose the factions by which their counsels were distracted and their strength paralysed.
The friends of the Stadtholder, who in 1763 was a boy of fifteen, sided with England
, desired the increase of the army, were averse to expenditures for the navy, and forfeiting the popular favor which they once enjoyed, inclined more and more towards monarchical interests.
The Patriots saw in their weakness at sea a state of dependence on Great Britain
; they cherished a deep sense of the wrongs unatoned for and unavenged, which England
, in the pride of strength, and unmindful of treaties, had in the last war inflicted on their carrying-trade and their flag; they grew less jealous of France
; they opposed the increase of the army—longed to restore the maritime greatness of their country; and including much of the old aristocratic party among the merchants, they were fervid lovers of their country and almost republicans.
The kingdom from which the United Provinces had separated, which Philip the Second had made the citadel of Catholicism—in which Loyola had organized his Society of Jesus as a spiritual army against
Protestantism and modern philosophy, might seem to
have been inaccessible to the ameliorating influence of a more enlightened public reason.
The territory was compact and almost insulated; and since the Cortes had ceased to be assembled, the government was that of absolute monarchy, controlled by no national representation, or independent judiciary, or political institution.
‘The royal power,’ says its apologist and admirer,8
‘moved majestically in the orbit of its unlimited faculties.’
The individual to whom these prerogatives were confided, was the bigoted, ignorant, kindly Charles III.
A fond husband, a gentle master, really wishing well to his subjects, he had never read a book, not even in his boyhood with his teachers.
He indulged systematically his passion for the chase, crossing half his kingdom to hunt a wolf; and chronicling his achievements as a sportsman.
He kept near his person the prayer-book and playthings of his childhood as amulets; and yielding his mind to his confessors, he never strayed beyond the established paths in politics and religion.
Yet the light that shone in his time penetrated even his palace: externally, he followed the direction of France
; at home, the mildness of his nature, and some good sense, and even his timidity, made him listen to the counsels of the most liberal of his ministers; so that in Spain
also criminal law was softened, the use of torture discountenanced, and the papal power and patronage more and more restrained.
The fires of the Inquisition were extinguished, though its ferocity was not subdued;
and even the Jesuits, as reputed apologists of resist-
ance and regicide when kings are unjust, were on the point of being driven from the most Catholic country of Europe
ranked as the fourth European
power in extent of territory, the fifth in revenue, while its colonies exceeded all others of the world beside; embracing nearly all South America
, except Brazil
and the Guianas; all Mexico
and Central America
, which had no bounds on the north; Louisiana
, which came to the Mississippi
, and near its mouth beyond it; Cuba
, Porto Rico
, and part of Hayti; and mid-way between the Pacific
and the Indian Ocean
, the Marianna and Philippine groups of isles; in a word, the countries richest in soil, natural products, and mines, and having a submissive population of nearly twenty millions of souls.
In the midst of this unexampled grandeur of possession, Spain
, which with Charles V. and Philip II.
had introduced the mercantile system of restrictions, was weak, and poor, and wretched.
It had no canals, no good roads, no manufactures.
There was so little industry, or opportunity of employing capital, that though money was very scarce, the rate of interest was as low at Madrid
as in Holland.
Almost all the lands were entailed in perpetuity, and were included in the immense domains of the grandees.
These estates, never seen by their owners, were poorly cultivated and ill managed; so that almost nothing fell to the share of the masses.
Except in Barcelona
, the nation every where presented the most touching picture of misery and poverty.
, which by its laws of navigation reserved to itself all traffic with its colonies, and desired
to make the Gulf of Mexico
and the Caribbean its
own close seas, allowed but four and thirty vessels, some of them small ones, to engage in voyages between itself and the Continent of America
on the Atlantic
side, and all along the Pacific
; while but four others plied to and fro between Spain
and the West India Isles
Having admirable harbors on every side, and a people on the coasts, especially in Biscay
and Catalonia, suited to life at sea, all its fisheries, its coasting trade, its imports and exports, and all its colonies, scarcely employed sixteen thousand sailors.
Such were the fruits of commercial monopoly, as illustrated by its greatest example.9
The political relations of Spain
From a consciousness of weakness it leaned on the alliance with France
; and the deep veneration of the Catholic
king for the blood of the Bourbons confirmed his attachment to the Family Compact
Besides, like France
—and more than France
—he had griefs against England
, in holding the Rock of Gibraltar
, hurled at him a perpetual insult; England
encroached on Central America
to extend the bounds of Brazil
demanded a ransom for the Manillas; England
was always in the way, defying, subduing, overawing; sending its ships into forbidden waters; protecting its smugglers; ever ready to seize the Spanish
The court of Spain was so wrapt up in veneration of the kingly power, that by its creed such a monarch of such an empire ought to be invincible; it dreamed of a new and more successful Armada, and
hid its unceasing fears under gigantic propositions of
daring; but the king, chastened by experience, had all the while an unconfessed misgiving; and slyly timid, delighted in intrigue and menace, affected to be angry at the peace, and was perpetually stimulating France
to undertake a new war, of which he yet carefully avoided the outbreak.