What interests did Napoleon have?

"Westphalia in the picture" - texts

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Elsermann, Silke
Munster in Napoleonic times
Münster, 1994


Until the outbreak of the French Revolution, the wars of conquest of the young republic and the anti-French alliance of most other European states, peace had ruled in Central Europe for almost three decades after the end of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

The first phase of the French Revolution was largely viewed positively abroad. In numerous publications in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the energetic implementation of the ideas of the Enlightenment in the neighboring country to the west was welcomed and supported. For the European monarchies, too, the political upheavals in France did not initially appear to pose a threat to their own constitution. Emperor Joseph II, who was very committed to advancing his reform policy in the empire, saw the struggle for the socio-political changes that he had created in his territory through "liberalizing" policies confirmed in the bourgeois revolution. His successor, Emperor Leopold II, refrained from his brother's policy of reform, but was initially also benevolent towards the events of the French Revolution. The reaction of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II. And the majority of his state officials to the beginnings of the French Revolution, in which the National Convention manifested itself as a political force, were similar: The western neighbors tried to fight for social and political progress "from below", which had been achieved in their own territory through the politics of enlightened absolutism "from above". The reception of the French Revolution among leading German intellectuals such as Schiller, Goethe, Kant, Wieland, Forster, and many others was initially even borne by a veritable enthusiasm for revolution, which was reflected in numerous writings. Many expressed their solidarity with the social and political upheavals in the neighboring country to the west by traveling to France; some were even made "honorary citizens" of the young republic (September 1792).
"As long as reform aristocrats like Mirabeau and Lafayette, in league with upper-class leaders, determined development and kept the popular movement in check, the Weimar intellectuals generally applauded the revolution." [1]

The majority assessment of the French Revolution abroad changed when the escape of the French royal family failed in Varennes in June 1791 and they were returned to Paris under general mockery. In France itself, the "betrayal" of King Louis XVI. led to a wave of patriotism in "his" people and the widespread unpopularity of the queen, the "Austrian" Marie Antoinette, to national animosity against the Habsburg house. On April 20, 1792, France declared war on Austria. In September of the same year, the French army was initially able to stop the Prussian-Austrian advance near Valmy. But by the execution of Louis XVI. On January 1st, 1793, the Franco-Austrian power struggle took on a new character. The phase of the "Terreur", the revolutionary reign of terror, led to a large-scale anti-French coalition abroad, consisting of Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Sardinia and Naples. The fear of revolutionary attacks on their own rulers and the fear of social upheaval caused the European state carriers to actively cooperate with the numerous French emigrants in their own country.

In view of this massive external threat, internal consolidation was urgently needed for the young republic. The "welfare committee" around Danton and Robespierre tried to force this stabilization through rigid measures in politics, economy and the military. In the summer of 1794 the "Terreur" reached its peak; both Danton and Robespierre fell victim to the mass executions. With the "Directory" in 1795, the National Convention took power again, passed a new constitution and tried to secure political power for the privileged bourgeoisie. In terms of foreign policy, France emerged stronger from the separate peace concluded with Prussia in Basel in 1795 and, above all, from the peace treaty of Campo Formio, which was dictated to the Austrians in 1797. The cession of the left bank of the Rhine to France on both sides was intended to create the prerequisites for the later expansion of the "Grande Empire" as well as for the Napoleonic Confederation of the Rhine. Napoleon Bonaparte's myth of military invincibility was established through his victory over the Austrian troops in northern Italy.

In the coup d'état of November 9th / November 10th, 1799, the young general was able to turn his military success into a political one; he appointed himself the "First Consul" of France, in fact endowed with almost dictatorial powers. The Bonapartist rule (1799-1813), which reached a climax with Napoleon's own coronation as emperor, is described by recent historical research as the third phase of the French Revolution. This shows that Napoleon's fame, which he had acquired as a "brilliant" general in numerous battles, was not only the result of his military and political successes. Napoleon, the self-proclaimed "finisher" of the French Revolution and guarantor of bourgeois progress, had to stabilize his empire, which was in a permanent state of war, from within. The centralized-hierarchical administrative apparatus and the reorganized education system, family policy in the allocation of important government offices and also "his" body of law, the "code civil", should serve this purpose.

It was intended to apply these "achievements" of Napoleonic dirigism to the conquered territories of the "Empire" in an "exemplary" manner. For this reason, the positions of power in the "New French" areas were occupied by family members; Napoleon's brother Joseph was made King of Spain, his brother Louis King of Holland and his brother Jérome King of Westphalia; his brother-in-law Murat was initially appointed Grand Duke von Berg and later received the Kingdom of Naples. Especially in the two satellite states, the Kingdom of Westphalia and the Grand Duchy of Berg, which were supposed to take on "model character" for the emperor, the following effects could be established in the long term: On the one hand, the revolutionary and Napoleonic innovations accelerated the reform policy of the enlightened, absolutist states - especially in the areas of administration and law, for example, Prussia profited from the French "preparatory work". On the other hand, several factors stood in the way of the application of the socio-political reforms: the absolutist constitution of the Prussian state did not provide for a fundamental dissolution of the privileged class society. In addition, the fourteen ministers who helped to implement the Prussian state reforms "from above" under State Chancellor Hardenberg between 1810 and 1820 were all of aristocratic origin.

Even the Prussian reform politician Freiherr vom und zum Stein, who temporarily served as chamber president in Münster, never questioned the hierarchically structured social order, any more than prominent statesmen such as August Wilhelm Rehberg, the philosopher Justus Möser and the (converted) theologian Count Leopold from Stolberg. With the "code civil", Napoleon finally laid down the "transformation of the birth class society into an egalitarian owner society" [2], but his family policy, the so-called donation policy, also triggered a diametrical socio-political development: rearistocratization. Apart from the conservative constitution in socio-political terms, the conquered areas were also largely undifferentiated in the economic field and characterized by feudal structures. Here, too, the imposed policy of Bonapartism had to fail because it tried to combine "absolutism and revolution" [3].

Not only Napoleon's military-political measures, but also his "economic warfare" against Great Britain, the continental blockade, demanded ever greater material and personal achievements from the population in his areas of rule. Against the background of the romantic intellectual current, which had crystallized in many places as a counter-movement to the Enlightenment, the awakening German national consciousness was also nourished at the same time. In the wars of liberation in 1813 it was first given a socio-political form of expression.

After numerous military successes, Napoleon's 611,000-strong "grande armée" suffered a devastating defeat in Moscow in the winter of 1812. In 1813 the emperor was defeated by the coalition army near Leipzig. However, he suffered his final and thus also political defeat in the battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815). From October 1814 to June 1815 an international diplomatic conference took place in Vienna, the Vienna Congress. Here - within the limits of 1789 - the "rightful" state officials, the royal and princely houses, were reinstated as the only legitimate governments in their former domains. France should be politically disempowered and a European balance of power should be created. The age of nation states began, but nationalist movements were to be suppressed by united forces. Peace in Europe should be secured by reactionary state means.

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In Münster, too, numerous publications had sparked a lively, contemporary interest in the events of the French Revolution among large sections of the population. For several reasons, however, the assessment of the political upheavals in the western neighboring country in the prince-bishop's provincial capital was largely distanced and negative. On the one hand, "mainly the conservative critics of the revolution such as Edmund Burke" [4] served as a source of information; on the other hand, many emigrants had been in the city since 1792. Some of them had already fled to the "stronghold" of spiritual exile before the advance of the French revolutionary troops on the right bank of the Rhine in autumn 1792. Their reports and descriptions of the revolutionary events were naturally correspondingly negative. When Prince-Bishop Max Franz's sister, Queen Marie Antoinette of France, was executed in Paris on October 16, 1793, there were hardly any supporters of the young republic in Münster. After the French revolutionary troops had conquered the Austrian Netherlands in the summer of 1794, numerous emigrants again sought refuge in the city. Many of them stayed in Münster even after the "Directory" had stopped their political persecution, some even until they died. The anti-revolutionary attitude within the Münster population resulted not least from their already conservative mentality. For centuries, their social, economic and political interests had been represented by a clerical sovereign and a strong class co-rule. In this respect, Münster was still strongly influenced by the Middle Ages in many respects at the turn of the 19th century.

Since the 14th century, 10,500 to 11,000 civilians have lived relatively constant within the city walls, today's promenade ring. The planned expansion of the city did not take place until the 1920s. Up to now, the different population groups, from the nobility to the upper and lower middle class to the lower classes, lived together in a small space. The 35 inner-city aristocratic courts were juxtaposed with numerous "gadems" as extremely simple living spaces and often work spaces at the same time. [5] In addition, the houses in the Martini loan shop that had been destroyed by the Seven Years' War had not yet been completely rebuilt, so that the hygienic conditions in the city were also inadequate. Since then, there had been no more sovereign commissioned works in the building industry. In general, there were hardly any vigorous efforts to promote the state capital economically on the part of the Münster prince-bishop. Although Max Franz was very popular with his population, he rarely stayed in Münster. It was not until December 18, 1792 that he also fled from Bonn to Münster from the French revolutionary army. Already on September 20, 1795 he left the city to travel to Vienna, now for good.

During his reign, even the most influential circles in the city were unable to realize their endeavors to give the state capital the character of a residence. A statistical study of changes in occupation confirms the picture of economic stagnation. According to this, the "dependent activities", i.e. those of day laborers, assistants and servants, increased considerably in the long term, whereas the dominant branch of the handicrafts and trade declined significantly in the second half of the 18th century. [6] In contrast, around the turn of the century there were also signs of progressive tendencies in economic and political terms. The outbreak of the French Revolution and its "wave-like" effects on the other European countries had also accelerated the awakening of a new bourgeois self-confidence in Münster. In the last third of the 18th century, it was the merchant families who had become wealthy and prestigious who had "noble court-like" villas built in Münster.

The idea of ​​razing the fortification walls in favor of a green belt surrounding the city was based on plans from 1764 by Johann Conrad Schlaun. In the urban development of a promenade, in which "the adoption of the fashion of the 'promenade' as the place of public bourgeois strolls" [7], the cultural and political influence of France became clear. The removed terrain of the former city walls was to be used by the citizens from now on. In the socio-economic area, too, traditional structures were broken up in the first fifteen years of the 19th century. This was evident, for example, in the staffing of the administrative offices, which were no longer reserved exclusively for the local aristocracy. In the first Prussian as well as in the French period, selected, well-educated Münster residents of bourgeois origin were called in as "experts" to work in administration and the judiciary. Most of them retained their offices until the second Prussian period and from then on became civil servants and co-sponsors of the Prussian reform legislation. Until industrialization, Münster was by far the most populous city between the Rhine and Weser rivers.

Compared to Dortmund, Hamm and Iserlohn, the "Metropolis Westphaliae" certainly did not experience such a sudden dynamic economic development. But they do
"As the largest city in the Prussian province of Westphalia with (its) growing central functions in administration, justice, military, education and culture, but also as an urban marketplace, it exerted a magnetic attraction on the purely agricultural surrounding area as early as the early 19th century." [8th]

[1] Walter Grab, A people must conquer their own freedom. On the history of the German Jacobins, Frankfurt a.M. 1984, pp. 25f.
[2] Helmut Berding, "Napoleon's idea of ​​society and its effects in Germany in the Rhineland: a betrayal of the revolution?", In: Revolution and counter-revolution 1789-1830. On the intellectual debate in France and Germany, ed. by Roger Dufraisse, Munich 1991, pp. 107-119, here p. 107.
[3] Ders., Napoleonic rule and social policy in the Kingdom of Westphalia 1807-1813, Göttingen 1973, p. 29.
[4] Rudolfine Freiin von Oer, "Residenzstadt ohne Hof", in: Geschichte der Stadt Münster, 3 vol., Ed. by Franz-Josef Jakobi, Münster 1993, here vol. 1, p. 365-409, here p. 400.
[5] "Gademe" originally referred to small rooms or chambers, later also small houses. They were built close together; often the neighbors shared a common chimney wall. See Mechthild Siekmann, Die Stadt Münster um 1770. A spatial statistical representation of the population, social groups and buildings, Münster 1989, p. 228ff.
[6] Ibid, pp. 118ff.
[7] Wolfgang Kaschuba, "Revolution as a mirror. Reflexes of the French Revolution in the German public and everyday culture in 1800", in: French Revolution and German Public. Changes in the press and everyday culture at the end of the eighteenth century, ed. by Holger Böning, Munich 1992, p.381-398, here p. 387.
[8] Hans-Jürgen Teuteberg, "Population development and incorporation (1816-1945)", in: Geschichte der Stadt Münster, loc. Cit., Vol. 2, pp. 331-386, here p. 366.

Westphalia in the picture, series: Historical events in Westphalia, issue 8