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1 8 Historically Speaking · April 2003 1 848 and American Frustrations with Europe Timothy M. Roberts The United States and Europe are atit again. OnJanuary22 ofthisyear U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked why, concerning U.S. claims of Iraq's dangerous weapons, "a lotofEuropeans would rather give the benefit ofthe doubt to Saddam Hussein than to President George Bush." Rumsfeld's reply was that much of Europe supported the United States; only two countries, France and Germany, were "a problem," and these weren't that important, since "that's old Europe." German and French officials snapped back, protesting that Europe's age actuallywas a good thing. The German foreign minister said, "Europeans [are] old," but only "as far as the creation of a state or culture is concerned." A French spokesman said that since Europe was "an old continent . . . ancientin its traditions," itcould offer wisdom to the less seasoned republic across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld's remarks also suggested thatthe United States expected more return from less traditional potential allies like Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the latter three recent entrants to the NATO alliance. Said Rumsfeld, "the center ofgravity is shifting" toward such members ofthe "new Europe." Pundits wondered what this exchange hinted at: either U.S. plans to act unilaterally, without consultation of "old Europe," or U.S. anticipation that "newEurope" would march lock step to the American drumbeat. While wrangling over how to oppose terrorism is a new chapter in transadantic history , the ambivalence withwhich Americans regard European politics goes back to the earlyhistoryofthe United States. An episode often overlooked, but worth remembering today, happened during the mid-19th century . The United States gazed at a Europe aflame in the revolutions of 1848. Several aspects of the relationship between the United States and Europe then resemble conditions today. Americans assumed that Adantic nations' adoption ofdemocratic institutions would depend on their "age." Americans alternately cheered and groaned at Europeans' efforts to act according to American democratic prescriptions. And European leaders expressed exasperation atAmericans' meddling and simplistic understanding of continental affairs. The 1848 revolutions provided an early test oftransatlantic solidarity, and the test failed. But the story ofAmericans ' responses to 1848 reveals aspects of American politics and society at that time. And it illustrates a pattern ofAmerican perceptions of Europe that the United States today might well try to avoid. The 1848 revolutions erupted as a deferred reaction to the post-Napoleonic Europeanframeworkestablishedin 1815.The TreatyofVienna of 1815 confirmed thatfour families—Hanover, Bourbon, Habsburg, and Romanoff—would uphold tradition and provide monarchical rule over almost all of Europe. Just four families! This concert of Europe was committed to squelching representative democracy. Thus, in France, about one in thirty-five Frenchmen could vote; while German, Italian, Polish, and Slavic peopleswere denied national sovereignty. There were a few liberal advances: in 1830 Belgium and Greece won independence from foreign control, and beginning that decade Britain easedvoting requirements and enactedlabor reforms. These measures helped insulate the United Kingdom fromupheavals thatrocked the Continent in 1848, after food shortages piled an economiccrisison otherpopularfrustrations . What a year itwas! Sicilian, French, German, and Roman peoples declared republics; northern Italians and Hungarians declared independence from the Austrian Empire; Poles defied Prussia and declared home rule; and various Slavic peoples demanded freedom from both Austria and Germany. Initially, liberal initiatives flourished , including expansions ofthe franchise, conventions of constitutional assemblies, amnestyfor political prisoners, press freedom, and so forth. Like the velvet revolutions of 1989-1991, the 1848 "springtime ofthe peoples " promised to some the end ofhistory. Such hopes, however, proved visionary. New liberal regimes began losing their momentum; radicals attempted to expand the revolutions and liberals couldn't decide on their goals. In Paris, workers and socialists demanded that the new republican government guarantee jobs and wages, provoking a vicious governmentcrackdown; in Frankfurt the "Professors' Parliament" failed to produce a popular constitution; in Italy regional leaders broke ranks to cut half-a-loaf deals with the Habsburgs; in Poland aristocrats and serfs were divided by class interests; in AustriaHungary Serb and Croat minorities decided to help the Habsburgs and Czar Nicholas I put down the Hungarian secession. Such problems—and there were a lot ofthem...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 18-19
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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