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vii There may be no other two historical events that are of greater impact than the American and the French revolutions. The first gave birth to a new nation that was to develop into the leading power in the world a century and a half later. The second gave birth within a generation to the greatest power in Europe for about twenty years, changing all its neighbor states forever. Introduction by Peter Koslowski Friedrich Gentz (after being ennobled, Friedrich von Gentz) was born on 2 May 1764 at Breslau, Silesia (then Prussia, today Wroclaw, Poland), and died on 9 June 1832 at Weinhaus, near Vienna, Austria. Gentz’s mother belonged to a Huguenot family that had fled France for Prussia and was related to the Prussian minister Friedrich Ancillon. Gentz spoke English and French very well, a fact that eased his career as a diplomat. His letters to the British Foreign Office are written in elegant French, the diplomatic language of Gentz’s time. The editor’s notes follow the text. See p. 95. viii Introduction Napoleon, the heir of the French Revolution, set out to rule all Europe until he was defeated by an alliance of all the major powers of Europe. It is, however, not only power but ideas that changed as the result of the two revolutions and their revolutionary ideas. “The Ideas of 1776,” of the American Revolution and of American independence, shaped Western constitutionalism and representative democracy ; “the Ideas of 1789,” the ideas of the French Revolution , led to a new civil law of the continental European states, to a new understanding of government and the relationships of state and church, and to realization of democratic government based on the concept of popular sovereignty. The French Revolution also gave birth to the spirit of revolution, to the idea that a nation can change itself by a total overthrow of its past and inherited character into an entirely new social body. This spirit of revolution has influenced all radical revolutions since then, especially the Russian Revolution of 1917. A comparison of the French and American revolutions is not only a study of world history , a study of the hour of the births of the American and the French Republic; it is also a study of the birth of the ideas that shaped all Western nations and all countries of the world searching for a constitution of liberty and democracy. Friedrich Gentz is one of the first observers of both revolutions. Most of his continental contemporaries concentrated their attention on the French Revolution , which lay closer and had revolutionized the leading European countries. The United States of America Introduction ix was literally on the other side of the world from Europe. Those who had immigrated to America from Europe usually did not have the means to return. Gentz was prescient about the importance of the United States in its infancy, whereas his compatriots still looked at the United States as a half-civilized, distant land of little importance, considering Europe and the world to be shaped, as Leopold Ranke later put it, by the five Great Powers: Austria, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. It is a paradox that the nation that sent the greatest number of people to the United States of America knew the least of all Western European nations about the United States. The German inability to grasp the potential of the United States, to which Gentz is the notable exception, had consequences well into the centuries . In both world wars, the German governments had no adequate perception of the economic and military power of the United States, yet Gentz was predicting this over a century earlier. Although becoming more powerful in the eighteenth century, Britain was a maritime power, being at the same time inside and outside of Europe. France, not Britain, was the first continental power in the perception of Europeans. France had ended the Holy Roman Empire and had defeated Austria again and again. Gentz wrote about the subsidies paid to the Holy Roman Emperor by Britain. Finally, Napoleon divided Germany, just as Prussia, Russia, and Austria had divided Poland, remarking that he did to the Germans only what they had done to the Poles, although Russia got the largest share of Poland. Gentz x Introduction brought all his powers of argument and persuasion to bear against Napoleon’s attempt to legitimize the expansion of the French Revolution. Gentz conceded that the partition of Poland of 1792 was unjust, as was every...


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