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Administration: Forms of Government



Kings and Queens. Monarchy, in which a single person possesses complete authority over a state and claims that authority by the grace of God, was the accepted form of government in most nations of Europe in the mid eighteenth century. On the monarch’s death the crown was passed to an anointed heir, usually the eldest son. In some states, such as Great Britain and Russia, the sex of the heir was not a great issue; queens could rule as well as kings. In other states, France for instance, women were not allowed to reign as queens in their own right. Because all state power was technically vested in the hands of a single person, the personality, intelligence, mental stability, and character of a monarch were of paramount importance. Strong monarchs gave their administrations a sense of confidence and direction while weak monarchs did not.

France and the Old Regime. During the early modern period French absolutism worked reasonably efficiently because strong kings such as Henry IV (1589–1610) and Louis XIV (1643–1715) governed France with attentive leadership. This was not the case, however, in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Neither Louis XV (1715–1774) nor Louis XVI (1774–1792) was particularly interested in nor adept at solving the problems the French state faced and left the actual governing of France to an increasingly professional corps of ministers. Louis XV reveled


In the Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès’s famous declaration one can see something of the fascination the French patriots had with English representative government, and how those ideas guided the initial phases of the French Revolution.

What is a nation? A body of associates, living under a common law, and represented by the same legislature, etc.

Is it not evident that the noble order has privileges and expenditures which it dares to call its rights, but which are apart from the rights of the great body of citizens? It departs there from the common law. So its civil rights make of it an isolated people in the midst of the great nation. This is truly imperium in imperia. In regard to its political rights, these also it exercises apart. It has its special representatives, which are not charged with securing the interests of the people. The body of its deputies sit apart; and when it is assembled in the same hall with the deputies of simple citizens, it is none the less true that its representation is essentially distinct and separate: it is a stranger to the nation, in the first place, by its origin, since its commission is not derived from the people; then by its object, which consists of defending not the general, but the particular interest. The Third Estate embraces then all that which belongs to the nation; and all that which is not the Third Estate, cannot be regarded as being of the nation.

What is the Third Estate?

It is the whole.

Source: William H. Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution: The Abbe Sieyes and What Is the Third Estate? (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994).

in hunting and all-night drinking parties, and Louis XVI was fascinated by the inner workings of clocks, but neither man paid muchattention to governing France. This weak leadership eroded obedience to the crown across French society but most especially among the nobles and the leaders of the French parlements (law courts) on whom the king depended for help in governing France. French prestige fell with defeat at the hands of the English in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). Especially galling was the loss of Canada and several sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean. By its victory Great Britain supplanted France as the preeminent power in Europe. Yet, France’s victory over Great Britain in the American War of Independence (1775–1783) revived French prestige but so crippled the state economically that it was forced to default on many of its loans and eventually declare bankruptcy. Economic crises wracked the French government through the 1760s, 1770s, and 1780s, making it difficult to find a lender who did not view the crown as a bad credit risk. Several government officials, Chancellor Rène-Nicolas de Maupeou, for example, attempted to raise taxes or create permanent taxes on the nobility, who paid little if anything in taxes. These policies were as unpopular with the peasantry, who had little money anyway, as they were with the nobility, who usually had money but did not want to spend it on taxes. Maupeou himself was dismissed in 1775. In 1781 the minister of finance, Jacques Necker, published a record of the government’s accounts, titled the Compte Rendu, in an Enlightenment-influenced attempt to demonstrate the rationality of the crown’s economic policy. The plan back-fired, however. Instead of solid economic policy the Compte Rendu’s readers perceived a government that spent far more than it brought in. This serious financial crisis and lack of royal leadership provoked many French nobles and wealthy lawyers to demand that a constitutional monarchy be set up in France. In exchange they agreed to pay taxes.

French Revolution of 1789. The revolutionary assemblies that ruled France after 1789 were not any better at governing France then the Bourbon kings had been. The National Assembly (1789–1792) was France’s first attempt at a constitutional monarchy. Its leaders, the Abbe Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès and the marquis de Lafayette, for example, uprooted much of the governmental infrastructur of the Old Regime in an effort to create a truly new state. Privileges, such as tax exemption and separate legal status, were abolished, as was much of the Old Regime’s administration. Louis XVI did not react well to the offer of constitutional monarchy. The National Assembly’s constitution gave the king veto power over legislation created by the Assembly, but the veto could only suspend laws, not defeat them. Further, while the king still retained some control over foreign policy, the Assembly had to approve all of his measures. Troubled by the revolution’s violence and deeply ambivalent about surrendering royal power to the masses, Louis XVI and his family atempted to flee France in June of 1791. Had his flight succeeded, Louis probably would have tried to rally support from the other monarchies of Europe for a counterrevolutionary invasion of France. Louis and his family were, however, recognized and apprehended outside the town of Varennes and were returned to Paris under armed guard. Any popular support for the king or the constitutional monarchy was dashed after his attempted flight. Louis XVI lived as a virtual prisoner in Paris until his execution in 1793.

French Revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Monarchy returned to France after the fall of Napoleon I in 1814. However, the kings of the Bourbon Restoration (Louis XVIII and Charles X) seemed to have learned little from the fate of their predecessors. Both kings had to deal with a representative bicameral legislature (a holdover from the revolution), but neither was able to reach an accord with it. Louis XVIII (1814–1824) understood that the liberal gains of 1789 could not be erased at once but failed to realize the popularity of Napoleon I’s legacy. The execution of Napoleon I’s former marshals provoked waves of unrest that culminated in the assassination of the archroyalist Duke de Berry (1820). Charles X (1824–1830), Berry’s father, succeeded Louis XVIII as king and was even more reactionary then Louis. Arrests, executions of

suspected republicans, and the suppression of the press led to a great deal of antiroyalist sentiment in France. Charles responded by dissolving the legislature and abolishing the voting rights of the bourgeoisie. Charles abdicated in 1830, just before his government was overthrown by antiroyalist mobs. The July Revolution of 1830 brought Charles X’s cousin Louis Philippe to the throne. The new king worked closely with his ministers to spur industrialization in France. In the process he helped make many bankers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists wealthy. High property requirements for voting rights alienated the monarchy from elements of the bourgeoisie and from the working class. The July Monarchy collapsed in February 1848 amid a series of riots orchestrated by republican-inspired tradesmen and workers in Paris. Surrounded by rioters in his Paris apartments, a frightened Louis Philippe abdicated his throne, perhaps hoping that one of his grandsons might be proclaimed king in his place. A coterie of liberal democrat and republican tradesmen and bankers in the nearby Chamber of Deputies, however, proclaimed instead the Second Republic (1848–1852).

Military Dictatorships. The revolutionary republican governments of 1793-1799 and 1848-1852 were neither centralized nor powerful enough to offer France clear and well-directed government. As a result of these chaotic situations, dictators who promised to rule fairly and justly in the name of the people could easily sway the French people. The Corsican Napoleon I rose through the ranks of the French republican army during the 1790s and saved the republican Directory in Paris from a royalist uprising in 1795. Military success in Italy against the Austrians made Napoleon a hero in France and allowed him to conduct foreign and military policy virtually without opposition. In 1799 he, his brother Lucien, and the Abbé Sieyès overthrew the Directory and established a dictatorship. In 1804 he had himself crowned emperor. His inspired leadership and military expertise allowed him to bring much of Europe under his rule; only his disastrous Russian campaign (1812) toppled him. After a brief exile on the Isle of Elba he returned to France in 1815 to a joyous welcome. Defeat at Waterloo (1815) brought him permanent exile on the island of St. Helena. Napoleon’s military skill, leadership, and instincts toward sound government inspired among the French people a reverence for him that few, if any, historical characters could match. He not only won battles but also published a unified law code (the Code Napoleon), established the Bank of Paris, and fostered meritocracy in his administration and army. His almost mythic legacy was powerful and helped his nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte to become elected president of the second republic in 1848. Following in his uncle’s footsteps, Louis Napoleon declared himself emperor (Napoleon III, 1852-1870) and ended the Second French Republic. Napoleon III, however, did not possess the martial skills of his uncle and was defeated in a disastrous war with Prussia. His capture at the Battle of Sedan (1870) effectively ended his reign and empire.

THE CRIMEAN WAR (1853–1856)

Nicholas I (1825–1855) directed an aggressive foreign policy that ultimately aimed at securing Russian control of the Turkish-held Dardanelles and the Bosporus. With this geostrategically important set of straits in his hands, Nicholas could send Russian warships and merchantmen into the Mediterranean Sea without opposition. To this end, in 1853, against the advice of most of his cabinet members, the tsar called for the Slavs and Orthodox Christians of the Balkans to rise upagainst the Turks. He also pledged to protect them if war came. The cabinet generally felt that these actions would provoke a war with Great Britain or France, who feared Russian power in the Mediterranean. Nicholas disagreed. When Wallachia and Moldavia revolted against the Turks, Nicholas sent Russian troops to aid them. Nicholas, however, underestimated the amount of furor his invasion would cause. Eager to protect its interest in India and the Mediterranean, Great Britain vigorously opposed Russia’s Balkan advances by promising military aid to the Turks. Napoleon III, looking for a military victory to cement his regime’s power, joined Great Britain. The allies selected the port city of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula as the target of their military campaign. Nicholas I, realizing that he had overplayed his hand, withdrew from the Balkans and made offers of a negotiated peace. The allies ignored him and began an ill-planned and disastrously conducted war. The Anglo-French commanders assumed, for example, that the land bridge connecting the Crimea to southern Russia could be easily interdicted with naval gunfire. At its narrowest the strip of land is barely five miles wide. The allies, however, neglected to consult a sounding chart for the Black Sea. The water around the land bridge is extremely shallow for several miles into the Black Sea; it would not accommodate the allies’ deep-draught ships. The allies only discovered this when their ships began to run aground in the littoral. By the war’s end nearly six hundred thousand men would die on the Crimean Peninsula, though more than 80 percent of those deaths were due to disease. Nicholas’s aggression cost Russia dearly at the peace table: the Black Sea became neutral; Wallachia and Moldavia became the independent country of Romania; and France and Britain guaranteed Turkey’s independence. Nicholas I did not live to see the fruits of his work, however, as he died in 1855.

Sources: Florence Nightingale, Letters from the Crimea, 1854-1856, edited by Sue Goldie (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997).

Trevor Royle, Crimea: The Great Crimean War, 1854-1856 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

Absolutism in Spain. Spanish power collapsed after its defeat in the Thirty Years’s War (1618–1648). The Spanish Empire that survived the war (and the loss of many parts of its world empire to the predations of English and Dutch privateers) was weak and decentralized. Only Castile was directly ruled by the crown; the principalities of Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia, for example, had centuries-old constitutions that granted them a great deal of autonomy, especially over legal issues and tax collection. At the head of each of these regions was a cortes (court), which was run by the local nobility. The power of the Spanish nobility was too great and too entrenched for the economically and militarily exhausted crown to overcome in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the late seventeenth century, generations of Hapsburg inbreeding produced the succession of the sexually sterile and mentally deficient Charles II to the Spanish throne. Charles II was himself incapable of administering the government—in the power vacuum that followed his accession, political leadership fell to a series of noble-dominated royal councils that oversaw virtually all aspects of Spanish government. After the childless Charles IFs death a general European war (the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1713) broke out to decide who would rule Spain. The Peace of Utrecht (1713) ended the war and placed the mentally unstable Phillip V, Louis XIV of France’s grandson, on the Spanish throne.

Bourbon Monarchy. Though the Peace of Utrecht specified that the crowns of France and Spain were supposed to remain separate, the French government used its close relations with Philip V and Philip’s own mental deficiencies to virtually control Spanish foreign policy through the eighteenth century. The ruthless predations of British privateers in Spain’s New World colonies spurred a series of secret alliances between Spain and France, which were designed to protect Spain’s empire. In this arrangement (known collectively as the Bourbon Family Compact), however, Spain was never so much France’s ally as a useful instrument to be used against England. Disputes with England over trade, smuggling, and piracy in the New World led in 1739 to the short, but costly, War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739–1740). With Philip V’s death in 1740 and the ascension of Ferdinand VI some stability returned to the Spanish throne. Though Ferdinand VI himself was also subject to fits of insanity, he also realized that Spain needed peace if it were to rebuild its institutions and regenerate its economy. Ferdinand IV’s tranquil reign ended in 1759 when he died without issue. His mentally stable half brother Charles III became king and continued the economic and political reforms Ferdinand had sponsored. By the 1770s the power of the Spanish grandees and their family councils was broken, and uniform tax and legal codes were in place across Spain. Despite the relatively rapid pace of royal reform it took at least a decade before these uniform codes truly became functioning parts of Spanish society. The Spanish monarchy worried that the chaos of the Revolution of 1789 in France might spill over into Spain and disrupt the fragile economic and social regeneration that had been taking place there since the reign of Ferdinand VI.

Spain and the French Revolution. Charles IV, son and heir of Charles III, was genuinely terrified by the harsh treatment the French royal family had received from their own countrymen through 1793. The executions of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette sent the king into fits of paranoia and rage. Charles IV and his ministers attempted to seal Spain off from all revolutionary ideas by imposing a statewide ban on the importation of all literature and newspapers from France. This isolation functioned well until Napoleon’s coup d’état—Napoleon threatened invasion unless Spain consented to an alliance with France against Great Britain. Napoleon’s callous use of Spain as a tool of French foreign policy, especially against British-allied Portugal, caused a great deal of enmity between France and Spain. To counter a British army, which had landed in Lisbon in 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain with one hundred thousand troops and headed for Portugal. Spanish protestations prompted him to overthrow the Spanish monarchy and install his brother Joseph as the new king. By 1808 anger at the harshness and brutality of the French occupation boiled over into a general Spanish uprising that succeeded in driving the French from Madrid. For the next five years the people of Spain worked together and kept up a damaging guerrilla war against the French army. Out of this grass-roots uprising grew modern Spanish nationalism; the effort against Napoleon required cooperation across class boundaries and fostered a palpable sense of national unity. With Napoleon’s defeat and exile, Ferdinand VII, Charles IV’s heir, was placed on the Spanish throne by the British army. The war against Napoleon, however, had changed the political complexion of Spain. In the absence of a king, the Spanish people had formed themselves into regionally elective juntas through which they ran the government. They would not accept an absolute monarch again without, at the least, constitutional guarantees against royal corruption. In 1812 a collective Grand Junta in Madrid promulgated a liberal constitution, which allowed for an elected unicameral assembly, freedom of the press, and a tightly controlled monarch. Ferdinand VII, however, declared the constitution illegal and systematically persecuted those responsible for it. In 1820 an uprising among disgruntled soldiers in Madrid spread quickly to the merchant class, and toppled Ferdinand. The newly restored French monarchy, nervous about the political instability in Spain, invaded and placed Ferdinand back on the throne. His restored government was even more repressive than his earlier one, and he faced two new problems: the Monroe Doctrine seriously eroded Spanish involvement in the Americas, and Ferdinand himself, married four times, was gravely ill and had no son to succeed him. Ferdinand’s death in 1833 provoked a civil war between the rival claimants to his throne. Ferdinand’s fourth wife Maria Cristina stood as regent for their infant daughter, Isabella II (reigned 1833-1838) against Ferdinand’s brother Don Carlos. Don Carlos’s insurgency was put down, but the regency’sheavy-handed rule was marked by wide spread corruption. Further, petty squabbles with regional administrations produced political paralysis in Madrid that rapidly became endemic and led to a serious loss of public confidence in the government. The locus of Spanish power began to migrate from the crown to the army, the only state institution not generally perceived as corrupt or failing.

Repressive Government. For the next ninety-eight years (1833–1931) Spain was ruled by a series of repressive army generals who themselves held political power largely as regents for young Spanish monarchs. Generals such as Baldomero Espartero, Leopoldo O’Donnell, Juan Prim y Prats, and Francisco Serrano y Dominguez generally removed the concept of popular sovereignty from government and eliminated such liberal reforms as freedom of the press, civil marriages, and jury trials. The generals did not offer much in the way of constructive domestic policy, and, abroad, wasted Spain’s resources on desperate attempts to hold onto the shrinking world empire. The brutal repression of the 1896 uprising in Cuba by Spanish troops serves as an example of this type of policy, but it also underscored the problems Spain encountered in pursuing such a policy. The violent excesses of the Spanish troops concerned the United States, which immediately sent troops and ships to Cuba. The destruction of the battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor provoked a short, but bitter war between Spain and the United States in 1898. The Spanish-American War went badly for Spain, which was far outclassed militarily. In the ensuing peace Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, thus ending its four-hundred-year reign as a world power.

Constitutional Monarchy in Great Britain. By the mid to late 1700s government in Great Britain consisted of a king, whose power had decreased significantly since the sixteenth century, and Parliament. The king still appointed the prime minister, the leader of Parliament, and other cabinet ministers and could declare war or peace; however, he could only do these things with Parliament’s cooperation and consent. Parliament was a bicameral legislature that oversaw virtually all aspects of British political life. Government was conducted by the prime minister in Parliament. Throughout the 1700s and the first half of the 1800s Parliament was dominated by a small clique of landowning nobles in Parliament’s upperhouse, the House of Lords. Under their leadership Great Britain had defeated France twice (in 1763 and in 1815) but had been defeated by the French-supported American colonists in their bid for independence (1775–1783). Since the late eighteenth century, profiting from the Industrial Revolution, many wealthy industrialists and entrepreneurs sought entry into the government. They were consistently opposed by the aristocratic Parliament and the king. The 1830 Revolution in France alarmed many conservatives in England. Frightened that something similar could happen in Great Britain, Parliament passed a series of reforms under the guidance of Lord John Russell that became known as the First Reform Bill (1832). The bill apportioned 143 of the 200 “rotten borough” seats in Parliament to underrepresented urban districts and extended the voting franchise to men paying a certain annual rent. This event enlarged the voting populace by 50 percent. Seeing an ever more expanding voting franchise, the cabinet-maker William Lovett founded the London working men’s association in 1836. Lovett referenced the Magna Carta of 1215 as the inspiration for his People’s Charter, a petition to Parliament that demanded annual elections and universal manhood suffrage. The Chartist program was rejected by Parliament in 1838, and the Chartist movement fragmented into increasingly violent radical cells that the government crushed by force. The Chartists held their last meeting in 1848.

Enlightened Despotism in Prussia. Monarchs, such as Frederick II (the Great), led the Prussian government through the eighteenth century. They were ably assisted by a multitude of loyal officials who generally placed efficiency above personal ambition. Though it was able to seize Silesia from Austria in the 1740s, Prussia was a small, resource-poor state that depended upon alliances with larger powers, Great Britain for example, for its survival. Napoleon I crushed Prussia in the battles of Jena and Auerstadt in 1806; these disastrous events so discredited enlightened despotism in Prussia that King Frederick William III (1770–1840) was forced to abolish serfdom and remove class barriers to the military in order toregain the throne after Napoleon I’s demise. The Revolutions of 1830 and 1848 in France touched off waves of unrest among students and workers across Germany, including Prussia. However, as Germany (unlike France and Britain) had no tradition of political liberty, it was difficult for republicanism to take root. When the Frankfurt Assembly, a motley collection of German statesman, professors, and political liberals, attempted to hand the Prussian king Frederick William IV (1795–1861) the crown of a united Germany in 1848, he rebuffed them with the comment that he would not accept “a crown offered up from the gutter.” It was not until the chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) that serious interest in a unified Germany entered the minds of the rulers of Prussia. Bismarck, one of the most astute political minds of the nineteenth century, understood that Prussia would have to embrace the rest of Germany if it were to survive as a power in central Europe. In geopolitical terms Russia and France were far too close and far too powerful for Prussia to ignore. Frenchbellicosity, which led directly to the Franco-Prussian War (1870), instilled a fear in the German states, especially those on the Rhine, that they could not withstand French aggression. France’s past record of war-like behavior, especially under Napoleon I, and Napoleon III’s demand of German territory as compensation for French neutrality in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, convinced the majority of the German states to voluntarily join a Prussian-led Confederation of German States. This union was initially only a loose confederation. However, after the victory over the French in 1870, it became a Prussian-led empire. Emperor Wilhelm I, under Bismarck’s guidance, established a pan-German, elected diet in Berlin. To the outside it appeared as a constitutional complement to the Emperor, but in fact it held no power at all. Bismarck himself considered the diet’s judgments and either acted on them or ignored them as he saw fit. He was under no compulsion to obey the decisions of the diet. For Bismarck the diet was useful as a sounding board for his policies across Germany and as a foil against any claims of Prussian hegemony in Germany.

Enlightened Despotism in Russia. Russian government remained remarkably stable, if unimaginative and reactionary, through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The government was headed by the tsar, a hereditary autocrat. In 1801 Tsar Alexander I (1801–1825) succeeded his father, who had been assassinated earlier that year. Russia was a vast, sparsely populated land in which the serfs, more than 80 percent of the population, were legally tied to land owned by either the tsar himself or by the boyars (nobles). Alexander asked the Russian nobles to voluntarily free their serfs as a preliminary step toward social and economic liberalism. The boyars, however, were cool to his request. Alexander also attempted to reorganize the Russian government along the lines of Prussian cameralism in an effort to increase its efficiency. By 1815, however, Alexander had become increasingly paranoid, and his regime followed his character. Censorship was violent and

brutal. The police burned or smashed presses that did not conform to Alexander’s vision of Russia. The repression spawned some clandestine opposition, especially among educated boyars and military officers, but they did not act until after Alexander’s death in December 1825. A cabal of nobles, army officers, and soldiers occupied St. Petersburg Square and stood outside the palace shouting the name Constantine. Their chant referred to their favorite candidate in the then-brewing succession dispute. Constantine, Alexander’s eldest son, eventually declined the throne, demurring to his younger brother Nicholas. The new ruler ordered the elements of the army that were loyal to him to attack the soldiers in the Square. All the leaders of the uprising were executed.

Reactionary Government. The humiliation of defeat in the Crimean War weighed heavily on the new tsar Alexander II (1855–1881). It was clear that Russia would have to modernize its military if it were going to compete as a Great Power. To accomplish this, Russia needed factories, and Alexander began efforts at industrialization. However, Russia was by no means socially or economically capable of rapid change. Further, Alexander was as politically reactionary as his father had been and had no intention of reforming the Russian government alongliberal lines. Instead, the tsar’s secret police, the notorious Third Section, arrested, tortured, tried, and executed anyone suspected of republican leanings. Waves of uncoordinated anarchist attacks swept across Russia; Alexander II himself was killed by a bomb attack in 1881. His son, Alexander III (1881–1894), succeeded him, and vowed to avenge his father. The Third Section was unleashed with unprecedented brutality upon the liberals, intellectuals, and republicans of Russia.


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John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688-1783 (New York: Knopf, 1991).

Clive Church, 1830 in Europe: Revolution and Political Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).

William Doyle, Origins of the French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Norman Gash, Aristocracy and People: Britain, 1815-1865 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979).

Theodore Hamerow, Restoration, Revolution, and Reaction: Economics and Politics in Germany, 1815-1871 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958).

James F. McMillan, Napoleon III (New York: Longman, 1991).

Derek Offord, Nineteenth-Century Russia: Opposition to Autocracy (London: Longman, 1999).

R. R. Palmer, The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800, 2 volumes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959-1964).

Otto Pflanze, Bismarck and the Development of Germany: The Period of Unification (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963).

Isser Woloch, The New Regime: Transformations of the French Civic Order, 1789-1820s (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).

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Administration: Forms of Government

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