Created by juliehengel on Nov 23, 2009
Last updated: 11/26/09 at 03:32 PM
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The news of Louis’s troubles was all the incentive Napoleon needed to try to regain power. He escaped from Elba and, on March 1, 1815, landed in France. Joyous crowds welcomed him on the march to Paris. And thousands of volunteers swelled the ranks of his army. Within days, Napoleon was again emperor of France. In response, the European allies quickly marshaled their armies. The British army, led by the Duke of Wellington, prepared for battle near the village of Waterloo in Belgium. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon attacked. The British army defended its ground all day. Late in the afternoon, the Prussian army arrived. Together, the British and the Prussian forces attacked the French. Two days later, Napoleon’s exhausted troops gave way, and the British and Prussian forces chased them from the field.
In 1810, Padre Miguel Hidalgo, a priest in the small village of Dolores, took the first step toward independence. Hidalgo was a poor but well-educated man. He firmly believed in Enlightenment ideals. On September 16, 1810, he rang the bells of his village church. When the peasants gathered in the church, he issued a call for rebellion against the Spanish. Today, that call is known as the grito de Dolores (the cry of Dolores). The very next day, Hidalgo’s Indian and mestizo followers began a march toward Mexico City. This unruly army soon numbered 80,000 men. The uprising of the lower classes alarmed the Spanish army and creoles, who feared the loss of their property, control of the land, and their lives. The army defeated Hidalgo in 1811. The rebels then rallied around another strong leader, Padre José María Morelos. Morelos led the revolution for four years. However, in 1815, a creole officer, Agustín de Iturbide defeated him.
In 1804, Napoleon decided to make himself emperor, and the French voters supported him. On December 2, 1804, dressed in a splendid robe of purple velvet, Napoleon walked down the long aisle of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The pope waited for him with a glittering crown. As thousands watched, the new emperor took the crown from the pope and placed it on his own head. With this gesture, Napoleon signaled that he was more powerful than the Church, which had traditionally crowned the rulers of France.
He knew that the key to this area was the sugar-producing colony of Saint Domingue (now called Haiti) on the island of Hispaniola. Loss of American Territories In 1789, when the ideas of the Revolution reached the planters in Saint Domingue, they demanded that the National Assembly give them the same privileges as the people of France. Eventually, enslaved Africans in the colony demanded their rights too—in other words, their freedom. A civil war erupted, and enslaved Africans under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture seized control of the colony. In 1801, Napoleon decided to take back the colony and restore its productive sugar industry. However, the French forces were devastated by disease. And the rebels proved to be fierce fighters.
By 1799, the Directory had lost control of the political situation and the confidence of the French people. When Napoleon returned from Egypt, his friends urged him to seize political power. Napoleon took action in early November 1799. Troops under his command surrounded the national legislature and drove out most of its members. The lawmakers who remained then voted to dissolve the Directory. In its place, they established a group of three consuls, one of whom was Napoleon. Napoleon quickly took the title of first consul and assumed the powers of a dictator. A sudden seizure of power like Napoleon’s is known as a coup—from the French phrase coup d’état, or “blow to the state.”
The American Revolution inspired the growing number of French people who sought reform in their own country. They saw the new government of the United States as the fulfillment of Enlightenment ideals, and longed for such a government in France. The Declaration of Independence was widely circulated and admired in France. French officers like the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought for American independence, captivated his fellow citizens with accounts of the war. One Frenchman remarked about this time period, “We talked of nothing but America.” Less than a decade after the American Revolution ended, an armed struggle to topple the government would begin in France.
Colonial leaders used Enlightenment ideas to justify independence. The colonists had asked for the same political rights as people in Britain, they said, but the king had stubbornly refused. Therefore, the colonists were justified in rebelling against a tyrant who had broken the social contract. In July 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. This document, written by political leader Thomas Jefferson,was firmly based on the ideas of John Locke and the Enlightenment. The Declaration reflected these ideas in its eloquent argument for natural rights. “We hold these truths to be self evident,” states the beginning of the Declaration, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Since Locke had asserted that people had the right to rebel against an unjust ruler, the Declaration of Independence included a long list of George III’s abuses. The document ended by declaring the colonies’ separation from Britain. The colonies, the Declaration said, “are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown.”
Montesquieu oversimplified the British system. It did not actually separate powers this way. His idea, however, became a part of his most famous book, On the Spirit of Laws (1748). In his book, Montesquieu proposed that separation of powers would keep any individual or group from gaining total control of the government. “Power,” he wrote, “should be a check to power.” This idea later would be called checks and balances. Montesquieu’s book was admired by political leaders in the British colonies of North America. His ideas about separation of powers and checks and balances became the basis for the United States Constitution.