The defeat of Russia in the Crimean War (1853–1856) convinced the newly enthroned Alexander II (r. 1855–1881) of the need for fundamental reforms in his country. The first institution he tackled was serfdom, and his Emancipation Edict (1861) ostensibly freed peasants from their bondage to the landowning aristocracy. Although the edict affected some 50 million serfs, it was not fully implemented. Peasants were not given land titles per se; the land was turned over to the control of local communities (mirs), which then allocated parcels to individual serfs. Moreover, they were forced to make annual payments to the government in the form of loans that would compensate the former landowners; the loan amounts were often higher than the dues aristocrats had demanded before emancipation.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte
The beginnings of German national identity were not political but rather cultural. Already in the eighteenth century, Germans had begun to react against the intellectual domination of the French Enlightenment and against the idea of a purely rational and universal definition of human nature. Instead, German thinkers began to develop the idea that humanity consists of different peoples (in German, Volk, people or folk) who share a common language, culture, and history. This idea was picked up on and carried forward by the Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion and particularity as opposed to the reason and universality of the Enlightenment.
Against this backdrop of growing German cultural self-identity, the military and political humiliation of the crushing Prussian defeat at Jena by Napoleon in 1806 flashed like a bolt of lightning. Prussia was forced to surrender all of its territory west of the Elbe River, and Napoleon even occupied Berlin. This defeat led to reforms of the feudal system in Prussia in 1807, not wholly unlike the changes in Japan after the Meiji Restoration. It also inspired one of the most important statements of German nationalism, a series of lectures delivered in Berlin in 1807–1808 by the most important German philosopher of the time, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814).
Despite his success as an academic philosopher, Fichte’s best-known work derived from a series of lectures inspired by the nationalist awakening he experienced as a result of Napoleon’s defeat and occupation of Prussia, the leading German state. He gave the lectures, entitled Addresses to the German Nation (1807), to raise morale and inspire patriotism among Germans.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation (1807–1808), trans. R. F. Jones and G. H. Turnbull. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press (1979): 3–4, 12–13, 15, 131, 132, 135–36, 138, 143–44, 145, 146–47, 151, 153, 223–24, 264, 266, 268.
João José Reis
Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, slave revolts were frequent and remarkable for their ambitions, success, and diversity of participating elements. Two urban revolts of the nineteenth century were especially significant. First, the Tailor’s Rebellion of 1798, in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, drew on the assistance of freedmen, people of mixed race, and even craftspeople of Spanish descent. The second was a Muslim-inspired and Muslim-directed uprising of slaves in Bahia in 1835, organized by African-born freedmen and slaves who had attained an Islamic education in West Africa before enslavement. This Muslim revolt is particularly fascinating because of the role of written documents, here deployed as protective amulets, among the members of the slave resistance. This excerpt from a book by a Brazilian scholar attempts to demonstrate the role of the written word in this rebellion, illustrating another, and less frequently recognized, “power” within historical documents.
João José Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, trans. Arthur Brakel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 99–103.
The attitudes of British colonial authorities towards their subjects are reflected in Oginga Odinga’s memories of his childhood in a Kenyan village. The British government took over Kenya in 1895 after the privately sponsored East Africa Company failed to keep order or find sufficient revenues to reward investors. Although Kenya became one of the few African colonies to receive a large number of white settlers, Oginga Odinga’s village in the remote southwest Nyanza region seldom saw white people. By this time (shortly before World War I) the British had perfected a system of administration that required fewer costly European functionaries and placed responsibility for carrying out government policies in the hands of natives. In this process of “indirect rule” the British appointed headmen or chiefs to serve as intermediaries between villagers and remote district or provincial administrators who were British. Odinga’s memoir describes some of the complexity in the roles of these natives who received enhanced opportunities, wealth, and status from the government, but at the risk of being isolated from their own people.
Oginga Odinga estimated that he was born in 1911 or 1912. He was educated at an English school and became a teacher. In the 1940s he emerged as a leader of the Luo people in his native Nyanza district, pressing for economic development and political rights for Africans. He was the first vice president of independent Kenya, but quickly parted from nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta because of his insistence that Kenya should have a multiparty political system. After his death in 1994 Odinga was honored for a lifetime of involvement in nationalist and democratic politics in Kenya.
Oginga Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru. New York: Hill and Wang (1967): 1–3, 15–16, 20–22.
This proclamation was published in the Delhi Gazette in the midst of the “Great Mutiny” of 1857. The author was most probably Firoz Shah, a grandson of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–1857), whose restoration to full power was a main aim of the rebels. General disillusionment with the pace of change and the fear that British missionaries were, with government connivance, attempting to Christianize India came to a head among the British East India Company’s sepoy troops. A rumor started that the grease used in the paper cartridges of the Enfield rifle contained both cow and pig fat, an affront to the sensibilities of both Hindus and Muslims. The resulting mutiny (known to Indians as the Great Rebellion or the First War of Independence) resulted in a civil war dominated by mass atrocities—and ultimately in the imposition of the British “Raj,” or direct rule.
A new wave of antiforeign sentiment in China, triggered by a “race for concessions” among the Western powers in the late 1890s, was increasingly centered on a group called the Society of the Harmonious Fists. The foreign community referred to this organization, due to their ritual exercises and resistance to both Qing and foreign control, as the Boxers. By late 1899, the Boxers were regularly provoking the foreign and Christian communities throughout China, and the assassination of the German ambassador in 1900 launched a brutal civil war. Western countries united to oppose the Boxers, now allied with Empress Dowager Cixi, and the foreign diplomatic quarter in Beijing was besieged between June and August 1900. Nevertheless, the groups most frequently targeted by the Boxers were Western missionaries and Chinese people who had converted to Christianity. Among those killed was the entire family of G. B. Farthing, an English Baptist missionary in Shanxi province, whose are shown in the photograph below.
Calico was a fine printed cotton cloth first imported to England from Calicut, on the western shore of the subcontinent, by the British East India Company. A domestic manufacture of calico-inspired textiles followed, as English artisans attempted to mimic the bright colors, careful weaving, and intricate designs of Indian cloth. This example commemorates Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, a great British naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars and the American War of Independence. Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1806, was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral after an elaborate funeral service.
National Maritime Museum, London
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Karl Marx (1818–1883) is one of the least understood men in history. His philosophy, commonly known as Marxism, is frequently associated with the creation of a harsh totalitarian state and a rigidly organized society, where people toil like robots without personal incentives, wealth, or freedom. But although Marx called for a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system as described and advocated by Adam Smith, his vision was more utopian than draconian. Marx envisioned a better world, where work, wealth, and power would be returned to the people, where individuals would be able to find true happiness and fulfillment, and where workers would toil not merely for self-interest and individual profit but for the welfare of all, guided by the simple maxim, “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”
The Communist Manifesto was originally written to express the views of and generate support for the “Communist League,” a small organization of discontented workers and intellectuals. It contains three basic parts: first, Marx’s critique of the flaws and injustices of capitalism, focusing on the struggle between the bourgeoisie (middle class) and proletariat (working class); second, his alternative Communist vision for human society; and lastly, his views on the misleading doctrines of competing socialist ideologies. Marx’s theory is ultimately imbedded in a theory of history known as dialectical materialism, which asserts that economic inequality and class conflict have been the prime engines of historical change. Like Adam Smith before him, Marx believed that certain immutable laws governed history and human society. These laws must be rationally examined in order to comprehend the past and to predict and shape the future. It is for these reasons that Marxism is often called “scientific socialism,” for it is based on a systematic study of economic relations and the forces of production. Yet Marx’s model is also based on certain key assumptions about human nature and the most appropriate definitions and strategies for human progress, fulfillment, and happiness. Although he did not live long enough to witness the implementation of his vision, his ideas have inspired millions of followers in the twentieth century.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Birth of the Communist Manifesto, ed. Dirk Struik, 87, 89–92, 96–97, 103–04, 106–07, 109, 110–12. Copyright © 1971 International Publishers.
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) grew up during an economic depression in England that ultimately shifted his intellectual interests from literature to economics. One of his major contributions is the theory of under-consumption, which argues that low consumer demand and high supply of goods will lead to a sluggish economy. Hobson also held that imperialism could be stripped down to economic interests by the mother country: it was no more than a search for new capitalist markets. This selection explores Hobson’s observed relationships among economy, international struggle, imperialism, and nationalism.
From John A. Hobson, Imperialism and the Lower Races. New York: James Pott and Co., 1902, part II, chapter IV.
Jakob Walter (1788–1864), who fought in Napoleon’s Grande Armée for two stints, records the experiences of the average foot soldier. The poorly organized nature of early 19th-century armies meant that little besides bread was supplied by the state; even housing had to be provided by local communities. Walter’s goal was to record the details of his campaigns as objectively as possible, not to lay out moral commentary on his lot as a lowly soldier. He mailed his diary to his son; it fell out of view only to be rediscovered and published some eighty years later. Consider the stripped-down nature of Walter’s language and his hesitation to outwardly lament the difficulties he and his fellow foot soldiers endured. In the following passage Walter describes the political upheavals that marked France from the start of the July Monarchy, in 1830 to the revolutions of 1848.
From Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections. Trans. Alexander Teixeria de Mattos. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1896, pp. 85–7, 145–6, 149–54, 163–5, 180–3, 187–8, 230–1.
The reign of Qianlong (r. 1736–1795) marked both the high point and the beginning of the decline of the Qing dynasty. Several European nations, driven by their desire to corner the market on the lucrative Chinese trade, sent representatives to Qianlong’s court. In 1793, Great Britain dispatched Lord Macartney, its first envoy to China, to obtain safe and favorable trade relations for his country. In response, Qianlong composed a letter to King George III (r. 1760–1820) detailing his objections and conditions, which Macartney conveyed back to Britain. The terms of this letter underscore Qianlong’s subtle understanding of global economic conditions and the maintenance of a balance between the interests of various nations.
E. Backhouse and J. O. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–331.
Karl Marx (1818–1883), the German socialist philosopher, worked alongside Engels to shape the Communist Party, which Marx outlined in his seminal text The Communist Manifesto (1848). The German Ideology, also coauthored by Engels, explains Marx’s theory of history as defined by relationships based on material conditions. This work responds to contemporary philosophers—such as Hegel and Feuerbach—while leading the reader step by step through Marx’s materialist ideology.
From Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, The German Ideology. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968, Vol I. ch. 1, section A.
As the end of the nineteenth century approached, German nationalism became much more virulent and overheated. Many Germans began to think that the eighteenth century had been France’s century of greatness, the nineteenth century the era of the British Empire, and that the twentieth century would belong to Germany. Across Europe, more aggressive social Darwinist and antirational movements were developing. This was the great age of European imperialism, when European nations scrambled to divide up Africa and Southeast Asia, and the United States acquired imperial possessions from the Caribbean to the Philippines. So the Germans were not alone in this movement toward a militaristic nationalism. On the whole, however, nationalism took a more virulent form in Germany than it did in France and Britain.
A good expression of the exaggerated, aggressive, and state-centered nationalism, occurs in the writings of Heinrich Treitschke (1834-1896). Treitschke and his fellow nationalists wanted Germany to rise to greatness as an imperial power, even if this meant conflict with existing imperial powers, such as Britain. For Treitschke, the situation involved nothing less than the encounter between the legitimate and historically determined ascent to domination of Germany and those powers and peoples who would deny Germany her “place in the sun.” The sources cited here come from his very popular German History in the Nineteenth Century and from a collection of his historical and political writings.
Heinrich Treitschke, German History in the Nineteenth Century [Deutsche Geschichte im neunzehnten Jahrhundert], 7 vols. (1915–1919). In Louis L. Snyder, ed., Documents of German History, 259–62. Copyright © 1975 Greenwood Press.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), also known as the Mahatma (“great soul”), came from an upper-class family in western India. His father was the leading administrator of a small principality in western India under British rule. From his mother he derived his concern with Hindu values, including self-purification, vegetarianism, tolerance, and ahimsa, or non-injury to all living things. He initially sought to follow in his father’s footsteps in the colonial administration, and this led him to London University and a degree in law. But when he returned home to India in 1891, he was unable to find a job, so he accepted a contract with an Indian law firm in Natal, South Africa.
It was while he was in Africa that Gandhi began to formulate his nationalist ideas. Inspired by personal mistreatment—he was thrown out of a first-class train car, barred from certain hotel rooms, and beaten, all because of his nonwhite status—Gandhi blossomed almost overnight into a proficient political campaigner and organizer of the Indian expatriate community in Natal. In 1915, Gandhi returned home to India, where he refashioned the 35-year-old Indian National Congress into an effective instrument of Indian nationalism. This was no easy task, given the ethnic, religious, and caste divisions within Indian society, as well as the full opposition of the colonial British government and military. But Gandhi persevered through victories and defeats until Britain formally granted independence to the two new dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.
The best and earliest expression of Gandhi’s redefined India comes from Hind Swaraj (Self-Rule), published in 1909. Here Gandhi employs the form of a dialogue between a fictional Reader (the voice of Gandhi) and an Editor to put forward his ideas. Written while Gandhi was still in South Africa, it anticipates the philosophy and course of action that he was to follow in India. Arguing against those reformers whom he believed had too narrow a definition of self-rule, Gandhi asserted that real hind swaraj must include not only political autonomy but also a reassertion of Indian pride and culture and a reborn sense of identity.
Mohandas Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, ed. Jitendra Desai (Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House, 1938), 29–30, 45–47, 55–58, 66–69.
With a change of Ottoman sultans in 1839, the government issued the Rose Garden Edict, the first of three reform edicts which are collectively known as the Tanzimat (reorganizations). With this edict, the government bound itself to basic principles with respect to relations between it and its subjects, and it carefully avoided a definition of the position of religious minorities in the empire. The document also enumerates basic human rights, drawing on ideas from the American and French revolutionary declarations of the eighteenth century. Accordingly, it reflects the adaptability of the Ottoman Empire to Western ideas, at least in the general context of the Tanzimat reforms.
Herbert J. Liebesny, The Law of the Near and Middle East: Readings, Cases, and Materials (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975), 46–49.
Gandhi wrote this book – called Hind Swaraj (1909) in his native language of Gujarati – on the steamer from London to South Africa, a voyage of ten days. The British banned its publication in India, but allowed Gandhi’s own English translation of the book (1910) to be published, on the assumption that few in India would be able to read it. The book is written in the form of a dialogue between a Reader, who represents the colonized in India, and an Editor, who represents Gandhi’s position.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), who took his pen name from a command shouted on riverboats, was the quintessential American writer: his major works The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are classics about the American experience. A humorist, Twain borrowed and responded to current political material in his works. This essay provides a satirical yet scathing depiction of King Leopold II of Belgium, whom Twain condemned as a heartless imperialist for his destructive policies in the Belgian Congo. Consider how Twain gets his point across while nonetheless speaking from King Leopold’s point of view.
From King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule, By Mark Twain. Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905. Second Edition
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) started his political career as a Corsican officer in the French army and rose to be the self-styled “First Consul of the French Republic, and later Emperor of France”—thus reviving ancient Roman means of rule. An ambitious man, Napoleon led many successful military campaigns against Western European nations who objected to his consolidated power; British Duke Wellington defeated his army at Waterloo (Belgium) in 1815, thus ending Napoleon’s imperial rule. This letter, written to his brother Jerome-Napoleon (1784–1860), the King of Westphalia, reveals a reformist side to the great conqueror: here, Napoleon advocates for enlightened rule over a grateful, liberated population.
From Trans. and ed. J. M. Thompson, Napoleon’s Letters. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1999, pp. 94, 190–1, 121–2, 194–5, 202, 218–9, 270–1.
Ram Mohun Roy
By 1818 the British East India Company’s initially opportunistic establishment of territorial footholds in India’s Bengal and Madras provinces had become a London-sponsored imperial project governing 40 million people and controlling revenues valued at one-third those of the British government at home. Within three more decades, British direct rule would expand into upper Burma, the northwestern provinces of Punjab and Sind, and greater portions of the subcontinent’s interior. Some of India’s traditional rulers were allowed semiautonomy in “princely states” in return for welcoming British advisers and troops. But it was increasingly clear that possession of India, where British rule was known simply as the Raj (rule), was what made tiny Britain the global superpower of the nineteenth century.
Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772–1833) witnessed this transformation during his lifetime. Born to a Bengalese Brahmin family, he was an extraordinary linguist, scholar, educator, publisher, and civil servant. Roy was especially concerned with the ways that Western knowledge could be applied to India’s mixed Hindu and Islamic culture. Curious and optimistic, he hoped that British rule might bring a “milder, more enlightened and more liberal” era to the subcontinent. East India Company administrators and British governors shared this hope. As pressures to open India’s trade to rival businesses reduced the Company’s role in commodity trade, ambitious plans to “westernize” Indian society took the place of the former mercantile activity. Indians such as Roy encouraged the government’s efforts to abolish widow burning, female infanticide, and the religious cult of spiritual murderers called Thugs.
In the following selection, Roy explains to the British Governor General Lord Amherst why he opposes the creation of a government-sponsored school for the scholarly study of Sanskrit, the ancient Indo-European language in which Hinduism’s sacred literature was written. Roy anticipated what many historians now believe did occur: that by codifying Indian beliefs and social practices, British rulers actually fostered traditionalism, as they declared to be timeless and immutable aspects of belief that had previously been fluid and adaptable. Doing so justified their own role as introducers of “the modern” and made it more difficult for Indians to adopt new technology, law, and social relations in their own way. In the end the Sanskrit school was established next to the Hindu College Roy, founded in Calcutta to educate sons of prosperous Bengali families according to a western curriculum.
Rammohun Roy, The English Works of Rammohun Roy (Allahabad: Panini Office, 1906), 471–74.
In 1807 most of the countries involved in the centuries-long Atlantic slave trade signed an international agreement to abolish the shipments of Africans to the western hemisphere. The British Royal Navy established a west Africa duty station to intercept smugglers of contraband human cargo. Africans freed by the British were returned to Freetown in Sierra Leone. Surrounded by strangers and often far from their native lands, many stayed to be educated at schools set up by the Church of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS). Often they converted to Christianity, and their knowledge of two very different worlds helped European missionaries to reach peoples of the interior.
Perhaps the most famous African to follow the path described above was Samuel Crowther (c. 1806–1891). As a young teenager Crowther was captured and sold to Portuguese slave traders. Leaving the Nigerian port of Lagos, the ship carrying him to South America was spotted by a Royal Navy squadron, which took Crowther and his fellow captives to Freetown. There Crowther was one of the first students at the Church Missionary Society’s Fourah Bay College. He became a teacher and evangelical Christian with strong ideas on the value of the Christian message for Africans. In 1841 he joined the First Niger Expedition to explore commercial and missionary opportunities away from the Nigerian coast. The mission is usually considered a failure. As was frequently the case, most Europeans could not survive the diseases they encountered in the African interior, and many of the party died. But Crowther proved himself to the British as a translator and intermediary with the village peoples. In 1842 he was sent to England for training and ordination in the Church of England.
When Crowther returned to Africa, the mission he established among the Yoruba people became a model for others. As much as possible, each mission community became self-sufficient, so that it would not be dependent on the villages around it. The residents grew cash crops that authorities hoped would replace revenues lost with the abolition of slavery, ran schools for the young, wore western clothes, and accepted any tribal peoples who wished to receive education and learn of the Christian religion. Crowther was so successful in managing the Yoruba and Niger missions that he was invited back to England to be consecrated as bishop of the Niger territories, a huge tract reaching from Nupe in the north to the Niger Delta along the coast. He was the first African to reach such a position in the Anglican Church.
Samuel Crowther, Journal of an Expedition up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers. London: Church Missionary House (1855): xiii–xviii.