The French Revolution unleashed the idea of the Rights of Man and Nations, an unstoppable force which led to the 1848 socialist revolutions in Europe. The latter sent radical German revolutionaries, the “Forty-eighters,” who controlled the powerful German-American press which Lincoln did not ignore in 1860. The Federal host invading the American South included divisions of Germans, Irish, the Red Shirts of Garibaldi, some who had followed the Hungarian revolutionary, Kossuth, and all served Lincoln’s revolution.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Exporting Revolution and the Rights of Man
“The French Revolution was different [than previous revolutions] because it brought into the world and Europe in particular, a new idea, the Rights of Man, and with the Rights of Man went the Rights of Nations. Where previously states had been based on dynastic power they were now based on national existence. In the old days, right up to 1789, the state was simply the property of the ruler . . . Then suddenly there appeared the French people who said, “We are France.”
This was a challenge to all the dynasties of Europe and there was a competition of propaganda and of assertion, with, as the [revolution] developed, first the liberal and then the radical, and then the revolutionary leaders staking out more aggressively the claims of the people of France and in time the claims of others. After all, if France had the right to be a nation . . . this applied to others.
One of the factors which produced the revolutionary war was the provocative declaration which the French legislative assembly made on 19 November 1792, promising help and fraternity to every nation seeking to recover its liberty.
The word recover is curious. Most of the nations had never had their liberty, but it was already a myth that there had been a distant time when peoples had all been free and had then been enslaved by their kings.
Something else was curious about it. Although two great forces, the one of monarchy, of tradition, of conservatism, the other of liberalism and nationalism, were moving against each other, neither of them looked at it in practical terms [and action beyond issuing threats].
Strangely enough, though France was the one threatened [by the other monarchies seeking a restoration of Louis XVI], it was the French revolutionary government which finally plunged into war, declared war – threatened Austria in April 1792, and then actually went to war, though unable to do very much.
Why? Because as one of them said: “The time has come to start a new crusade, a crusade for universal liberty.” When the French revolutionary armies encountered the armies of the old [French] regime and were defeated, the cry arose, as it does in a war, of “Treason.” “We are betrayed.” The very same cry that the French raised in 1940 when they were again defeated.
[As the French revolutionary armies] began to achieve victories, [they] certainly brought liberation from the traditional institutions, liberation from the kings and princes, liberation from the Christian religion. At the same time, they brought demands . . .”After all,” the French said, “We have done the fighting, we have liberated you, we have presented you with the Rights of Man, we not only had to pay the money for these armies, we had actually to do the fighting for you as well. Therefore you must pay us.”
Wherever the armies of liberty went in Europe, they imposed indemnities. They collected so much that there was a time when the French revolutionary wars were practically paying for themselves. Moreover, as the armies grew greater and more powerful, the apprehensions of the civilian politicians in Paris grew greater also.
What they wanted was that these revolutionary armies . . . devoted as they were to liberty and equality and fraternity, should not exert power in Paris itself. As one of the revolutionaries said “We must get these scoundrels to march as far away from France as possible.” Revolution had become something for export.”
(How Wars Begin, A.J.P. Taylor, Atheneum Press, 1979, excerpts pp. 20-33)